State-run media blames US, Israel for attack

DAMASCUS (AP) — Syria’s state-run media on Saturday implicitly blamed the recent militant attack in Damascus on the United States, Israel and their supporters in the region.

The accusation came a day after security forces fought Islamic militants near the defence ministry in a gunbattle that left four militants and a police officer dead, the government said.

Six insurgents, including two who were wounded, were captured and two policemen were also injured.

“What happened in the heart of Damascus is a practical translation of the American-Israeli threats. Targeting Syria is still an official policy of the US administration, the Tel Aviv leaders and some weak-willed people who have sold themselves for evil in exchange of a handful of dollars,” state-run Tishrin daily said in an editorial.

The United States blames Syria for backing groups such as the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as well as Lebanon’s Hizbollah. The US also accused Syria of allowing foreign fighters to cross into Iraq, an accusation the Arab state denies.

Syria’s official news agency, SANA, said all 10 militants in Friday’s attack were members of “takfiris.”

“Takfiris” refers to Sunni extremists who declare that non-radical Muslims are infidels.

SANA said police seized 10 US-made automatic rifles, along with several homemade bombs. It did not specify the weapons’ brand, but said they had been supplied by a “neighbouring country to carry out sabotage attacks against vital targets and national interests.” The country was not named, but Syria has alleged in the past that weapons were coming into the country from Lebanon, with whom relations have been increasingly strained since the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri last year and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops.

A UN investigation into the Hariri assassination has implicated Syria.

Tishrin said it was the first time Syria seized US-made weapons, and hinted the rifles had been brought in as an implicit US and Israeli threat to the country. “As if it was meant to send an urgent message to the leadership and the people of Syria to realise the dangers of … confronting projects that are hostile to Syria and the Arab nation.” Religious leaders also condemned Friday’s attack.

A top Syrian Muslim cleric, Sheikh Ahmed Hassoun said that “he who stands against Syria’s security is standing in the other trench, antagonising religion, people, honour, homeland and the whole nation.” Bishop John Ibrahim, the head of the Syrian Orthodox — a Christian sect — in the northern Aleppo province, also condemned the attacks. “The perpetrators are serving the enemies,” he said.

Security forces have had occasional shootouts with militants in the Syrian capital before. In previous clashes, the militants tended to belong to the “Jund Al Sham,” or Soldiers of Syria, which was formed in Afghanistan by Syrian, Palestinian and Jordanian militants with links to Abu Mussab Zarqawi, the head of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

In March, Syrian security forces killed a top Jund al-Sham militant, Mohammed Ali Nasif, and his bodyguard in a clash northwest of Damascus.

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