At U.N., Syria compares rebel violence to 9/11 attacks

Reuters

* U.S. says Syrian government uses "terrorist tactics"

* Security Council hopes to forge statement on aid crisis

* U.N. chemical arms experts probing attacks leave Syria

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 30 (Reuters) - Syria's foreign ministeron Monday compared what he described as an invasion of foreignterrorists across his country to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks onthe United States, remarks that Washington dismissed asoffensive and disingenuous.

In a speech to the annual meeting of the U.N. GeneralAssembly in New York, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualemalso said that "terrorists from more than 83 countries areengaged in the killing of our people and our army" under theappeal of global jihad.

"There is no civil war in Syria, but it is a war againstterror that recognizes no values, nor justice, nor equality, anddisregards any rights or laws," Moualem said.

The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have beenkilled in Syria's 2-1/2 year conflict as rebels fight againstthe forces of President Bashar al-Assad's government. It beganin March 2011 when the government tried to crush pro-democracyprotests and eventually became a full-scale war. Now more thanhalf of Syria's 20 million people need aid.

"The people of New York have witnessed the devastations ofterrorism, and were burned with the fire of extremism andbloodshed, the same way we are suffering now in Syria," Moualemsaid, referring to the Sept. 11 attacks carried out by the alQaeda network that brought down the World Trade Center in NewYork and damaged the Pentagon outside Washington.

"How can some countries, hit by the same terrorism we aresuffering now in Syria, claim to fight terrorism in all parts ofthe world while supporting it in my country?" he said.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations responded by sayingMoualem's comment was "as disingenuous as it is offensive,"adding that his statements "have no credibility."

"The fact that the Syrian regime has shelled schools andhospitals and used chemical weapons on its own peopledemonstrates that it has adopted the very terrorist tactics thatit today decried," U.S. mission spokeswoman Erin Pelton said.

Assad's government accuses Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar,Britain, France and the United States of arming, financing andtraining rebel forces in Syria.

The opposition Syrian Coalition described Moualem's U.N.speech as misleading. "The extremists and terrorists do notrepresent the opposition," the coalition said in a statement.

"The terrorists are doing the regime's work - they frightenlocal populations, directly and actively attack moderateleaders, and drive sectarian wedges to scare off efforts tosupport the moderates," it said.

Last week the U.N. Security Council achieved a rare momentof unity on the Syrian war by passing a resolution demanding theelimination of Syria's chemical arsenal by mid-2014. Assad'sally Russia supported the resolution, which was based on aU.S.-Russian plan agreed upon in Geneva.

HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

The council is now turning its attention to Syria's direhumanitarian crisis, putting to the test its fragile consensuson the conflict with plans to approve a statement by Thursdayaimed at boosting aid access in Syria.

"The signs are good," Australian U.N. Ambassador GaryQuinlan, serving as president of the Security Council forSeptember, said after the council met to discuss the statementdrafted by Australia and Luxembourg.

Quinlan said that "we don't want to lose the momentum andgood spirit," and said a decision has been made to pursue anon-binding statement on the issue because negotiating a legallybinding resolution would take more time.

In another development, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saidin comments published on Monday that Russia wants to reviveplans for a conference on ridding the Middle East of weapons ofmass destruction now that Syria has pledged to abandon itschemical arms.

Despite the deal on Syria's chemical arms, fighting withconventional weapons still rages. A mortar shell hit the Chineseembassy in Syria's capital Damascus on Monday, damaging thebuilding and wounding one person, Chinese state media reported.

U.N. chemical weapons inspectors investigating allegationsof chemical and biological weapons use in Syria left Damascus onMonday after their second mission in two months, witnesses said.

Another team of U.N. experts, charged with starting theprocess of verifying and eliminating Syria's chemical weapons,landed in Beirut on Monday. About 20 of them arrived on aprivate flight from the Netherlands, a source at Beirut airportsaid, and are expected to continue on to Damascus this week.

Moualem said the Syrian government is committed tofulfilling its obligations after having acceded to the ChemicalWeapons Convention that bans the use of such weapons. But herepeated the government's position that it is the rebels whohave been using poison gas, not forces loyal to Assad.

"Terrorists, who used poisonous gases in my country, havereceived chemical agents from regional and Western countriesthat are well known to all of us," he said.

The United Nations has received reports of at least 14chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The most recent was an Aug.21 sarin gas attack in a Damascus suburb that the United Statessays killed more than 1,400 people, many of them children.

The United States and its allies blame Assad's governmentfor the attack, while the government blames the rebels.

View Comments (4)