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Monday, July 03, 2006

Neighbboring Allies to Palestine State Positions

Syria: Captors Have the Right to Demand Swap

Monday, July 3, 2006

DAMASCUS - The Associated Press

Militants are entitled to demand the release of jailed Palestinians in exchange for a captured Israeli soldier, and Israel and the U.S. have no right to call for his unconditional release, a state-run newspaper said on Sunday in an editorial that likely reflects Syria's official take on the matter.

The Tishrin daily, which often mirrors government thinking, said the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton renewed his "loyalty" to the Jewish state on Friday when he called on Syria to act against Hamas, whose militants claimed responsibility for the soldier's June 25 abduction.

"Since the capture of the Israeli soldier ... Bolton has been waiting impatiently to vent the hatred and spite on his face on Syria and to renew his loyalty to Israel," the front-page editorial said.

"As soon as the Security Council announced it was holding a session to evaluate the situation in the region ... Bolton turned to the media to exonerate Israel and lay the blame on Syria," it said.

Syria's focus on Bolton was significant, since he is widely viewed as a relative hardliner in the Bush administration and has been a prominent critic of Syria in the war on terror.

At an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday, Bolton called for the immediate and unconditional release of Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit by Hamas, saying it would be the best way to resolve the immediate crisis.

But to establish lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians, he said Syria and Iran must "end their role as state sponsors of terror and unequivocally condemn the actions of Hamas, including this kidnapping."

Bolton also called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to arrest Hamas' top political leader Khaled Mashaal, who lives in Damascus, and close the militant group's office in the Syrian capital.

The soldier's captors, on the other hand, have offered to trade "information" about Shalit in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

"These (Palestinian) groups have the legitimate right under international law to seek such an exchange," the newspaper said.

"Israel has the right to accept or reject (the conditions), but it is an international precedent for Israel and Bolton to demand his immediate and unconditional release," it added.

The U.S. accusations against Syria came days after Israeli warplanes buzzed Assad's summer residence in the western city of Latakia on the Mediterranean coast. The Israeli action was seen as a message to Assad to use his influence with Hamas to win the Shalit's release.

Several countries have asked Assad to intervene. Syria, according to Arab officials, has said it cannot do so while the Israeli offensive against Gaza continues.

Amid efforts to defuse the crisis, Assad received Qatar's foreign minister, Sheik Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr Al Thani, on Saturday.

No details emerged about the meeting. Mashaal and other members of Hamas' politburo were based in the Gulf state for some time before moving to Syria in 1999.

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