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Syria's Assad: 'We will not wait' to be next U.S. target

Friday, March 28, 2003

NICOSIA Syria, alarmed by the impending collapse of its neighbor and ally, has called for suicide missions against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Syrian President Bashar Assad also called on Arab regimes to oppose the U.S.-led war against Iraq. He warned that Syria could be the next target of Washington.

Assad said in an interview with the Beirut-based A-Safir daily that Damascus would not wait until the United States attacks Syria, Middle East Newsline reported. He did not elaborate.

"We will not wait until we become the next target," Assad said.

The mufti of Syria, appointed by the regime, called on Muslims to launch suicide attacks on coalition forces in Iraq. The statement came amid concern expressed by the Syrian regime over the U.S. advance on Baghdad.

"I call on Muslims to use all means possible to thwart the aggression, including martyr operations against the hostile invaders," Sheik Ahmad Kaftaro, the mufti, said in a statement on Thursday. "This is the obligation of all Muslims."

Kaftaro said the obligation to fight coalition forces begins with Muslims in Iraq. He also called on Westerners to protest the participation of their governments in the war against Iraq.

Western intelligence sources said Syria has increased preparations of its military amid the war in Iraq. They said Assad has ordered accelerated production of the medium-range Scud C and D missiles, which have a range of 550 and 700 kilometers, respectively.

Assad said he expected an Israeli attack. He said Syria would remain under threat as long as Israel exists.

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