Syria's foreign minister on Monday accused "sources in the United States" of fabricating news about the target of a mysterious Israeli attack last month, reported to be either weapons headed for Hizbullah
guerrillas or a nascent nuclear installation.
In a speech to the UN General Assembly's ministerial meeting, Walid Moallem called the "Israeli aggression" proof that the Jewish state wants to escalate tension in the Middle East rather than seek peace.
Tensions between Israel
have been high since the reports of an Israeli airstrike
in northern Syria on September 6. Foreign media say the Israeli target was either arms meant for Hizbullah guerrillas in neighboring Lebanon
or a joint Syrian-North Korean nuclear project.
Syria has repeatedly denied both reports while Israel has refused to comment, heightening speculation.
Syrian President Bashar Assad
told the British Broadcasting Corp. Earlier Monday that Israeli warplanes attacked an "unused military building" and said Damascus reserves the right to retaliate. But Assad said his country was not about to attack Israel in response, suggesting he did not want to hurt chances at peace talks with the Jewish state.
Assad's comments were the first Syrian acknowledgment that an air raid took place and not just an aerial incursion. Moallem warned that the failure of the UN Security Council and the international community to condemn "this act of aggression would encourage Israel to persist in this hostile pursuit, and lead to an exacerbation of tensions in the region."
"Some sources in the United States have spread rumors and fabricated news in order to justify this act of aggression," Moallem charged. "By distorting the facts they have become Israel's accomplices in this act of aggression."
Moallem stressed that peace remains the "strategic choice" of Syria, based on recovering the Golan Heights, but he said "actions and realities" suggest that the Israeli government and the current US administration do not have "the will to make a genuine peace."
He indicated that Syria was not prepared at this point to attend a US-sponsored international peace conference this fall, echoing Assad's comments earlier to the BBC.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said
that key Arab nations, including Syria, would be invited to the peace conference,
expected to be held in the US In November, to provide the foundation for peace talks to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Moallem said "the contemplated substance, approach and objectives" of the peace conference "remain vague."
"Furthermore, the proposed gathering fails to identify the purposes, basics, terms of reference and time frames of the process," he said.
Assad said Syria needs "more clarifications" before it decides whether to participate in the peace conference, saying he does not know the purpose and the substance. He stressed that Syria's concerns need to be addressed - primarily the return of the Golan Heights, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
"If they don't talk about the Syrian occupied territory, no, there's no way for Syria to go there. It should be about comprehensive peace, and Syria is part of this comprehensive peace. Without that, we shouldn't go, we wouldn't go," Assad said.
While there is talk of peace, Moallem said "challenges and tensions are escalating" threatening security and stability not only in the Mideast but also internationally.
"The hopes of the peoples of the region in arriving at a just and comprehensive peace and living in a secure and stable environment have faded if not totally died," he said. "Moreover, the current situation in Iraq, and the attendant anger and apprehensions it has generated, have turned the region into a hotbed of tensions and a theater for confrontations."
Moallem said the solution in Iraq "must begin with national reconciliation" and include a withdrawal of foreign forces, "Subject to the agreement of the Iraqi government."
More than 1.6 million Iraqis have fled to Syria, he said, but the assistance Syria has received to help them "is almost negligible."
He singled out the United States, which is spending hundreds of billions of dollars on military operations, but he charged that it "fails to allocate any resources to assist Iraqis who have been forced out."