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Cablegate: Syria: 2007 Country Reports On Terrorism

VZCZCXRO7731
OO RUEHAG RUEHDF RUEHIK RUEHLZ RUEHROV
DE RUEHDM #0046/01 0221233
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 221233Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY DAMASCUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 4554
INFO RUEHXK/ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUCNMEM/EU MEMBER STATES COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0744
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC PRIORITY
RUMICEA/USCENTCOM INTEL CEN MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 DAMASCUS 000046

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

S/CT FOR RHONDA SHORE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER ASEC PGOV SY
SUBJECT: SYRIA: 2007 COUNTRY REPORTS ON TERRORISM

REF: STATE 146856

1. (SBU) Russell Comeau is the Embassy POC. Address: 6110
Damascus Place, Dulles, VA 20189. Unclassified e-mail:
ComeauR@State.gov. Tel: ( 963-11) 3391-3785.

2. (SBU) Syria was designated as a State Sponsor of Terrorism
in 1979. Since then it has continued political support to
Palestinian terrorist groups, and political and material
support to Hizballah since the group's creation. HAMAS,
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), and the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC), among
others, all base their external leadership in Damascus and
operate within Syria's borders. The Syrian government
insists that the Damascus-based groups are confined to
political and informational activities, but Palestinian
groups with leaders in Syria have claimed responsibility for
anti-Israeli terrorist attacks.

3. (SBU) Over the course of the year, Syria's public support
for the Palestinian groups varied, depending on Syrian
national interest and international pressure. As in 2006,
President Bashar al-Asad expressed public support for
Palestinian rejectionist groups. Hamas Politburo head Khalid
Mish'al and his deputies continued to reside in Syria and the
Syrian government facilitated their movements by providing
security escorts for their motorcades. Additionally, Mish'al
led Friday prayers at various mosques throughout Syria and
gave several public speeches expressing gratitude for Syria's
support. At times, however, the Syrian regime claimed to
have utilized its influence to restrain the rhetoric and
activities of Palestinian groups. In advance of the November
2007 Annapolis Conference, for example, the Syrian government
postponed a Palestinian rejectionist conference organized by
Hamas, PFLP-GC, and PIJ to occur in November in Damascus.

4. (SBU) Syrian officials publicly condemned some acts of
international terrorism, including bombing attacks that
killed Lebanese members of parliament. At the same time,
the Syrian regime made a distinction between what it
considered to be legitimate armed resistance by Palestinians
in the Occupied Territories, by Lebanese Hizballah, and by
Iraqi opponents of the "occupation of Iraq." The Syrian
government has not been implicated directly in an act of
terrorism since 1986, although an ongoing UN investigation
into the February 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime
Minister Rafik Hariri continued to investigate Syrian
involvement. Separately, four Syrian members of Fatah
al-Islam were arrested in connection with the February 13,
2007 Ain Alaq bus bombings in Lebanon. Syrian Interior
Minister Maj. Gen. Bassam Abdul Majeed spoke publicly in
March 2007 on the matter and rejected suggestions that the
Syrian regime was involved in the attack.

5. (SBU) Syria continued to strengthen ties with Iran,
another state sponsor of terrorism. Iranian President
Ahmadinejad, accompanied by the Iranian Defense Minister and
the Iranian Army Chief of Staff, met with Syrian President
al-Asad and other senior Syrian officials in July 2007.
During this visit, Ahmadinejad also met with Palestinian
rejectionist groups, including two separate meetings with the
leaders of Hamas and PIJ and a collective meeting with
leaders of PFLP, PFLP-GC, Democratic Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (DFLP), and Fatah al-Intifada. Additionally,
local media reported that Hizballah leader Nasrallah met with
Ahmadinejad at the Iranian Embassy in Damascus. According to
open source reporting, Syria and Iran worked successfully to
rearm Hizballah after the July-August 2006 War between
Lebanon and Israel.

6. (SBU) Although the Syrian government suspended
intelligence cooperation with the U.S. and several foreign
governments in 2004, over the last 12 months Damascus took
action against al-Qaida and other terrorist groups and
individuals. Additionally, the Syrian government worked to
increase security cooperation with Iraq during the course of
the year. In July 2007, Syria hosted a meeting of technical
border security experts representing Iraq's neighbors, the
U.S., and other countries. Syria also participated in two
ministerial-level Iraq Neighbors' Conferences in Sharm
el-Sheikh, Egypt (May 2007) and Istanbul (November 2007).

7. (SBU) The Syrian government refused to implement mandatory
visa requirements for citizens of Arab countries but claims

DAMASCUS 00000046 002 OF 002


to have increased its scrutiny of military aged Arab males.
In August 2007, Syria hosted Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki and
signed several security-related agreements. As of year's
end, Syrian and Iraqi officials had held several ministerial
and working level meetings focused on enhanced economic and
security cooperation. According to U.S. and Iraqi officials,
2007 witnessed a marked reduction in the flow of foreign
terrorists transiting through Syria into Iraq. On December 2,
2007 Lieutenant General Odierno, Commanding General,
Multinational Corps - Iraq, noted publicly there had been a
25 to 30 percent reduction in the number of foreign fighters
entering Iraq from Syria.

8. (SBU) Despite acknowledged reductions in foreign fighter
flows, the scope of the problem remained large. Syria
continued to allow former Iraqi regime elements to operate in
the country. According to the December 2007 "Measuring
Stability and Security in Iraq" report to Congress, nearly 90
percent of all foreign terrorists known in Iraq used Syria as
an entry point. While the Syrian government has taken some
steps to intercede in foreign fighter movements through the
country, the Syrian government can do more to wrap-up known
terror networks and foreign fighter facilitators operating
within their borders. Separately, the Syrian government has
cracked down on pro-PKK (Kongra Gel) sympathizers in
northeastern Syria, and President al-Asad expressed his
public support of Turkish military action against Kongra Gel
militants operating in southern Turkey and northern Iraq.

9. (SBU) Syria remains a source of concern regarding
terrorist financing. The Commercial Bank of Syria remains
subject to U.S. sanctions. Industry experts report that 70
percent of all business transitions are conducted in cash and
only eight percent of all Syrians use formal banking
services. Syria's black market money-changers continue to
operate unabated and regional "hawali" networks are
intertwined with smuggling and trade-based money laundering -
facilitated by notoriously corrupt customs and immigration
officials, raising significant concerns that the Syrian
government officials and Syrian business elite are, at the
very least, complicit in black market and/or terror financing
schemes.

10. (SBU) Syria's government-controlled press continued to
tout Syrian regime efforts to combat terrorism; the media
reported in March 2007 that the Syrian security forces had
arrested a Sayidda Zeinab based fundamentalist for supporting
terrorist attacks in the region. In May 2004, the Syrian
government unilaterally ended intelligence cooperation with
the U.S., therefore the details of this arrest remain unknown
as do the specifies of other purported Syrian government
efforts to curtail terrorism, including the findings of an
internal investigation into the September 12, 2006 attack on
the U.S. Embassy which resulted in the injuring of one
locally employed guard, the death of a Syrian security
officer who responded to the attack and the deaths of all
four assailants.
CORBIN

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