February 24, 2006

Syria Disputes US Charges it Incited Cartoon Mobs

By Irwin Arieff

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Syria on Friday disputed U.S. charges it had incited mob violence over cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad, saying Damascus had done its best to protect embassies during violent protests and would pay for damages.

Dozens of Syrian police and security officers had been injured protecting foreign embassies during February 4 demonstrations in Damascus that started out peacefully but unexpectedly turned violent, Syrian U.N. Ambassador Fayssal Mekdad said in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has accused Damascus of inciting the violence, saying Syria and also Iran had gone "out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes."

Washington is in the midst of an international campaign to put pressure on Syria, accusing it of supporting terrorism, dominating Lebanon and backing insurgents in Iraq, charges Damascus denies.

Annan said this month Syria and Iran should pay for any damage caused by their failure to protect foreign embassies from mobs protesting over the cartoons, which first appeared in a Danish newspaper and triggered widespread protests across the Muslim world.

Mekdad, who was recently named Syria's vice foreign minister in a cabinet shuffle but remains in New York, accused Washington of "issuing statements having no basis in reality."

"They have twisted the facts and misrepresented the measures taken by the Syrian government," he said in the February 13 letter, circulated at the United Nations on Friday.

He said Syrian officials had apologized for the violence and pledged to pay for any damages in meetings with officials representing the European Union, the European Commission, Austria, Canada, Chile, Norway and Switzerland.

The Foreign Ministry was in the process of assessing the damage and has provided temporary quarters to the Chilean Embassy, he said.