Syria-Lebanon Road Targeted in Israeli Strike

In its offensive against Lebanon-based Hezbollah, Israel has bombed the main highway north of Beirut, which leads to Syria. The Israeli military says the attacks were meant to stop the flow of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. Melissa Block talks with Imad Moustapha, Syria's ambassador to the United States.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

We're joined by Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. IMAD MOUSTAPHA (Syrian Ambassador to the United States): You're welcome.

BLOCK: I'd like to start by talking about Israel's bombing of the highway north of Beirut, the road that links Lebanon and Syria. Israel has said that the bombing was to stop the flow of weapons from Syria to Hezbollah. What's your response?

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: Well, my response is that this is a brazen lie. The true reason Israel has bombarded the bridges connecting Lebanon to Syria on the highway is that since the start of this crisis, hundreds of thousands of refugees, civilians, have fled into Syria to find a safe haven there. Israel has not only done this in the crossing points between Lebanon and Syria but in Lebanon itself, where the people are stranded in Southern Lebanon unable to flee away. And whenever they are trying to escape they are hit by the Israeli jet planes.

BLOCK: But Mr. Ambassador the United States, Israel and many other countries say there's no question that Hezbollah has been and is armed by Syria as well as Iran, and that Iranian weapons flow through Syria to Hezbollah. Do you deny that?

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: Look, if you look today at the situation in Lebanon, who is killing who? The Israelis are massacring the Lebanese and the United States administration is expediting what they call intelligent bombs to Israel so that Israel can use to bombard more and more of the Lebanese infrastructure, destroy Lebanon and kill hundreds of Lebanese civilians. We believe that Hezbollah does not need any logistical support from Syria. Hezbollah is capable of defending Lebanon and the Lebanese people against the Israeli aggression. This is on one hand.

On the other hand, as of day one of this conflict, Syria has called on the international community to end the hostilities and called for an immediate cease-fire so that the Lebanese lives can be spared, while the United States has opposed this.

So let this be very clear, who is trying to save lives in the Middle East and who is participating in the atrocious crimes that are taking place in Lebanon right now while we are talking?

BLOCK: But let me get back to the question about arms to Hezbollah, if you don't mind. Are you denying that any weapons come from Syria to Hezbollah?

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: I said we do not provide logistical aid or assistance to Hezbollah. They don't need this from us. They never asked us to do this. They are capable of having their own sources of armament, and they know how to defend themselves against the Israeli aggression.

BLOCK: The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, yesterday said that this would be a moment for Syria to step up and, in his words, play a positive role in the Middle East, but thus far they have chosen not to, in his words.

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: This is incredible, amazing and preposterous. While we are calling for peace and for an end of hostilities and while the U.S. is actually supporting Israel in doing what it is doing to the Lebanese people, they are claiming that we are being negative, and they think they are being positive? I think let us allow the American public opinion to judge. Since this crisis started, we have been offering medical aid to the Lebanese, humane assistance. We have opened our borders to the Lebanese civilian population. While we are doing this, the United States is instigating Israel to commit more and more crimes in Lebanon. And we are playing a negative role while the U.S. thinks it is playing a positive role?

BLOCK: The U.S. demand has been for some time that Syria needs to stop its support for terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah. Shut down their offices in Damascus and then we can talk. Do you accept that precondition?

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: Absolutely not, because we believe that Hamas and Hezbollah have a just cause. They are defending their people against an Israeli occupation. Previous U.S. administrations used to engage with Syria, to talk with Syria, and we used to use our influence and leverage on various parties in the Middle East to reach a compromise or a settlement. This administration is ideologically entrenched in its positions towards Syria and they use pretext not to talk to Syria.

As I have said, if the United States think that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, Syria thinks that the leaders of Israel are terrorists, because they are killing our civilian population.

BLOCK: Would there be some scenario that you can imagine where Israeli troops push further into Lebanon and Syrian troops decide to intervene?

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: All options are open. However, as I have said, we do not want to further escalate the situation. Syria really wants to deescalate what's happening and we really would like to, as I have said, be a part of the solution. However, if the Israelis attack us, then we have to defend ourselves.

BLOCK: Ambassador Moustapha, thanks for talking with us.

Mr. MOUSTAPHA: You are welcome.

BLOCK: Imad Moustapha is Syria's ambassador to the United States.

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