(by Eli Lake, NYSun.com) WASHINGTON – The prospect of a thaw in relations between America and Syria
was put on hold last night, despite the role Syria’s security services
played in thwarting a terrorist attack on the American Embassy in

Spokesmen at the
State Department and White House said yesterday that Syria must end its
sponsorship and tolerance of terrorism if relations between the world’s
last Baathist state and its first modern democracy are to improve. Tom
Casey and Tony Snow spoke after Secretary of State Rice praised Syria’s
internal security services for helping to fend off the embassy attack,
which injured no American diplomats.

Four armed men
began firing on the Damascus embassy yesterday morning from stolen cars
that contained pipe bombs and grenades, according to wire reports.
Syria’s state-run press immediately blamed the attack on a small
Lebanon-based terror organization, Jund al-Sham. The Syrian ambassador
to Washington, Imad Mustafa, then repeated the allegation on CNN.

If the official
Syrian version of events is correct, yesterday’s incident reflects
poorly on President Assad. The American Embassy is in one of the most
secure neighborhoods in Damascus, it is less than 1,000 feet from one
of Mr. Assad’s palaces, and the president’s motorcade often passes by
the site of the attack. If four gunmen and a truck filled with
explosives and weapons reached the entrance to America’s embassy, they
were also perilously close to high-level regime targets.

“The wider
question involves the nature of the authoritarian regime,” a scholar at
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former Pentagon aide
on Syria policy, David Schenker, told The New York Sun. “Are they
losing control? We saw something earlier this year: Syrian anti-terror
police fought a gun battle in June with terrorists.”

Mr. Schenker and other analysts also said they doubt that the whole story of the attack has come out.

“A couple of
things like this have happened before,” Mr. Schenker said. “The embassy
was stormed with the facilitation of the government, once in 1998 and
once in 2000. The Syrians have been a welcoming environment for any
number of terrorists for decades, so it should come as no surprise that
unauthorized terrorists have taken up residence there and would be able
to pull off this kind of attack.”

The scholar also
noted that Syrian security forces failed to stop Muslims from attacking
Scandinavian embassies in February over cartoons depicting the Prophet
Muhammad. The Syrian security services fired at the attackers. Wires
reported yesterday that three assailants were killed and a fourth was
taken into Syrian custody. Another authority on the Levant, Tony Badran
of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said he was skeptical
about the story that Jund al-Sham carried out the attacks.

“This is the most
heavily fortified area of Damascus. There is a history of fake or
semifake encounters with so-called Islamists. Every time the regime
wants to show that it is embattled or that it shares the same enemy as
the United States, there is an incident like this,” Mr. Badran said. He
added that he has seen Arabic-language press reports from the region
questioning the authenticity of Jund al-Sham. “I am not even sure they
are a legitimate organization. Name one successful operation against
Syria they have ever conducted,” Mr. Badran said.

Mr. Casey said he
has no information that suggests the Syrian regime was behind
yesterday’s embassy attacks. When asked what effect the incident would
have on America’s relationship with Syria, he said, “There are many
issues that are out there that we want to see the Syrian government
take action on, including issues related to their support to terror.
Certainly, those broader concerns haven’t changed as a result of this
particular incident.”

America has said
for two years that Syria is providing a safe haven and financial
support for terrorist leaders affiliated with the saboteurs of Iraq’s
elected government. The response from Damascus yesterday was also
frosty. Mr. Mustafa said in a statement to the press that America has
exacerbated the problem of terrorism in the region by favoring Israel
and invading Iraq. “The U.S. should take this opportunity to review its
policies in the Middle East and start looking at the root causes of
terrorism, and broker a comprehensive peace in the Middle East,” he

Reprinted here with permission from The New York Sun. Visit the website at NYSun.com.


1.  List the countries that border Syria.  Name the capital of Syria.  Who is the president of Syria? (For a map, go to WorldAtlas.com.)

2.  What actual details did the reporter of this article give about the attack on the American Embassy in Damascus yesterday?

3.  What did U.S. spokesmen Tom Casey and Tony Snow say needs to happen to improve relations between Syria and the U.S.?

4.  List the three reasons given in paragraph 4 for why the attack on the American Embassy was surprising.

5.  What reasons
are suggested by experts on the Middle East (David Schenker and Tony
Badran in paragraphs 5-9) for how the terrorists were able to carry out
the attack?


a secular dictatorship with one of the world’s worst human rights
records, has been on the U.S. State Department list of countries
sponsoring terrorism since the list’s inception in 1979. However, Syria
has not been directly involved in terrorist operations since 1986,
according to the State Department, and it bars Syria-based groups from
launching attacks from Syria or targeting Westerners. Some experts
characterize Syria’s involvement in terrorism as “passive support.” But
Syria has been involved in numerous past terrorist acts and still
supports several terrorist groups.
(from the Council on Foreign Relations website)
For more information on Syria’s connection to terrorism, go to CFR.org


Go to wikipedia.org for a map of the Levant

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