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Blair issues warning to Syria, Iran
By PETER HECHT
Sacramento Bee

 

August 01, 2006
Tuesday


LOS ANGELES -- Delivering a major international policy address in California, British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a stern warning Tuesday that Syria and Iran will face serious consequences if they continue working to destabilize the Middle East.

Without saying the two nations could face military action, Blair said: "We need to make it clear to Syria and Iran that there is a choice: come into the international community and play by the same rules as the rest of us - or be confronted.

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"Their support of terrorism, their deliberate export of instability, their desire to see wrecked the democratic prospect in Iraq is utterly unjustifiable, dangerous and wrong," the prime minister said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "If they keep raising the stakes, they will find they have miscalculated." Meanwhile, Blair heaped blame on Iran- and Syria-backed Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and other Islamic extremists, saying their incursions into Israel were part of a calculated campaign to provoke a massive Israeli military response.

The idea, Blair said, was to leave the world with images of gutted Lebanese cities to stir outrage - thus drowning out moderate Muslim voices and exploiting the tragedy to spread an "arc of extremism" across the Middle East.

"The purpose of the provocation that began the conflict was clear," Blair said of Hezbollah guerrillas crossing the border from Lebanon, killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two others. "It was to create chaos, division and bloodshed, to provoke retaliation by Israel that would lead to Arab and Muslim opinion being inflamed, not against those who started the aggression but against those who responded to it."

With warfare and sectarian violence stretching from Afghanistan to Lebanon to Iraq, Blair said the Middle East has is now facing a critical clash of political and religious values pitting "reactionary Islam and moderate, mainstream Islam."

He said the region's future stability will depend on supporting and empowering moderate Muslims who shun violence and strive for democratic values. But he warned that now, "instead of Muslims seeing this (struggle) as about democracy versus dictatorship, they see only the bombs and brutality of war, and sent from Israel." The crisis in Lebanon, more than three-weeks old, has caused more than 800,000 Lebanese to flee their neighborhoods and 100,000 are still believed trapped in combat zones, United Nations relief officials have reported.

Blair said he has been shocked by the carnage on he's seen on television from Lebanon where Israeli bombs and missiles targeting Hezbollah have also killed numerous innocent civilians, including women and children.

"I, and any halfway sentient human being, regards the loss of civilian life in Lebanon as unacceptable, grieves for that nation, is sickened by its plight and wants the war to stop now," Blair said.

But he said Israel couldn't stand idle as its soldiers were kidnapped over the borders of Lebanon and Gaza and Hezbollah rained "rockets indiscriminately at the civilian population in northern Israel." Blair also assailed Iran for enabling war and bloodshed in Lebanon and Israel by providing financing and weapons to Hezbollah guerillas in Lebanon and Hamas militants in Gaza.

"Iran's President has called for Israel...to be 'wiped off the map,'" Blair said. "And he is trying to acquire a nuclear weapon...Israel's main neighbor on its eastern flank is Syria, who support Hezbollah and house the hard-line leaders of Hamas.

"It's not exactly a situation that is conducive to a feeling of security, is it?"

 

Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps-McClatchy Western Service, http://www.shns.com



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