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Syrians told to prepare for fight with U.S.

by Tricky Dick Wednesday, Apr. 02, 2003 at 9:24 PM

It is considered certain that the fatwa was approved by Syria's authoritarian government, which has tightly controlled religious bodies since its ruthless suppression of a fundamentalist uprising in 1982.

Syrians told to prepare for fight with U.S.

Iraq war is just the beginning, leaders say

Juliette Terzieff, Chronicle Foreign Service

Monday, March 31, 2003

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Damascus, Syria -- With U.S. officials accusing Syria

of hostile acts, the religious establishment here is

busy preparing Syrians to stand and fight any future

American military intervention against this hard-line

Arab state.

"We've all heard the threats against Syria from Donald

Rumsfeld, and we understand that anyone who extends a

hand of help to the Iraqi people will be a target of

that aggression," said Salah Kuftaro, general director

of the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Foundation in Damascus.

The U.S. secretary of defense charged last week that

Syria is shipping military equipment to Iraq that

endangers the lives of allied forces.

Expressing views commonly held among Syrians, Kuftaro

said: "Iraq is just a beginning. This is a war against

Arab civilization that forces us to defend ourselves."



On Sunday, Kuftaro took pains to explain the meaning

behind a fatwa, or religious edict, issued Friday by

his father, Sheikh Ahmad, the chief mufti of this

predominantly Sunni Muslim nation for the past 38

years.

The edict, the first of its kind from such an

influential religious leader in the region, said

Muslim men and women were obliged to resist invading

forces using any and all means available to them,

including martyrdom operations.

Sheikh Ahmad also called for a boycott of goods

produced by the United States and its allies.

It is considered certain that the fatwa was approved

by Syria's authoritarian government, which has tightly

controlled religious bodies since its ruthless

suppression of a fundamentalist uprising in 1982.

Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa blasted Washington

Sunday, saying that Syria was rooting for a U.S.

defeat in Iraq. He told the parliament that "the U.S.

administration has led its people to a catastrophic

stage and put them in confrontation with the entire

international community."

'THE SAME BODY'

The younger Kuftaro, a well-dressed, clean-shaven man

who is gradually taking over the mantle of leadership

from his father, spoke of a pan-Islamic response to

the crisis: "Every Muslim in the world is part of the

same body. If you stick a needle into one part of the

body, all the organs will respond."

But he seemed to back away from the idea that Sunni

clerics or the regime were tacitly encouraging jihad

against the United States, saying, "The fatwa is not a

green light to people to start killing innocents."

He also sent encouragement to the peace movement in

the allied nations: "We applaud our brothers and

sisters in America and Great Britain for their

determined efforts to stop this illegal aggression."

An Iraqi suicide bomber struck a checkpoint in central

Iraq Saturday, killing four U.S. soldiers. On Sunday,

members of the radical Palestinian group Islamic Jihad

claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that

injured 30 people at a mall in the Israeli town of

Netanya.

Neither incident is believed to be directly related to

the elder Kuftaro's pronouncement, but observers

increasingly worry that more and more young Muslim men

will lay down their lives in attacks on Western

targets. Iraqi officials say thousands of Arab

volunteers are flocking there to become martyrs.

"There are a lot of young, passionate men in this

region with no work and little hope, and they have

been waiting for some sign from religious leaders to

act," said a Western diplomat in Damascus. "The actual

wording of the fatwa will likely prove to be

irrelevant."

MORE ATTACKS TO COME

Iraqi officials promised Saturday that more attacks

are on the way, as did spokesmen in Lebanon for

Islamic Jihad.

"(We) announce the good news of the arrival of (our)

first martyrdom attackers in the heart of Baghdad --

to fulfill the holy duty of defending Arab and Muslim

land," the armed wing of Islamic Jihad said in a

statement Sunday.

Beyond the war itself, talk by U.S. officials about

installing a U.S. military governor in Iraq after the

regime's downfall and changing the political cast of

the Middle East also has inflamed passions.

Images of U.S. troops briefly raising the Stars and

Stripes in the southern Iraqi city of Umm Qasr caused

the Arab "street" to jump to the conclusion that the

United States plans a long term occupation of Iraq.

The rising civilian death toll in Iraq only reinforces

that perception.

"We are neither blind nor stupid," said Damascus

cabbie Mohammed Salim. "Whatever we felt for Saddam

before no longer matters. George Bush is now our

enemy."

Salim is among those convinced that Syria is next.

"This is not about Saddam. This is about domination

over all Arabs, and that is completely unacceptable,"

he said. "We will fight it."

Said Salah Kuftaro: "This is not a war of religions

but a war of colonization, and as such martyrdom

operations are a legitimate right of the Iraqis and

any other nation under attack. If the resistance of

the French against Hitler was justified, then why not

the resistance of the Iraqi people?"

©2003 San Francisco Chronicle

Page W - 7

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