Restraint urged in Mid East

World leaders made urgent appeals to Israel for restraint last night after its biggest air strike against Syria for 30 years.

Warplanes flew into Syrian territory to bomb what Israel said was an Islamic terrorist training camp ten miles from the capital, Damascus.

The raid came 12 hours after Saturday's suicide bombing by a woman terrorist at a restaurant in Haifa which killed 19 Israelis, including three children.

And it dramatically raised the stakes in the Middle East conflict.

Fighter jets bombed the Ein Zaheb base of Islamic Jihad, where Israel says suicide bombers are trained.

The extent of the damage was unclear last night.

A man living near the site described the attack in the dead of night. "It felt like an earthquake," he said.

Palestinian sources reported casualties but journalists were prevented from approaching the camp.

The attack was condemned by Syria as a "grave escalation" of the crisis.

Emergency UN meeting

At an emergency session of the UN Security Council last night - held at the request of Syria to consider a resolution condemning the raid - the country's ambassador said that Israel believed itself to be "above the law".

Fayssal Mekdad said: "Israel has become a symbol of defying the United Nations and its resolutions.

"Israel, by its continued aggression against the Palestinians and by provoking and enlarging this aggression to include Syria, is proving that it is a government of war and not a government of peace."

However, Israel's UN ambassador Dan Gillerman accused Syria of being a dictatorship that provided funding, logistical support and a safe haven to hundreds of terrorists.

He said the Syrian call for a resolution condemning Israel would be "laughable if it were not so sad".

He added: "Syria would do well to take a hard look in the mirror and count itself fortunate that it has not yet been the subject of concerted international action as part of the global campaign against terrorism. Not yet."

Earlier yesterday, Britain and America led calls for Israel to uphold international law, while Arab leaders condemned the raid and warned a "circle of violence" could engulf the region.

Dilemma for US

However, the attack put Washington in a dilemma as it has publicly condemned Syria as a sponsor of terrorism.

President Bush phoned Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to express his condolences over the Haifa suicide bombing, but refused to be drawn when asked about the Israeli air raid.

Significantly, a White House spokesman stressed how the US has repeatedly told Syria that Washington believes it is on the wrong side in the fight against terrorism and that it must stop harbouring terrorists.

Circle of violence

Arab leaders closed ranks against Israel. Jordan's foreign minister Marwan Muasher said: "This is an aggression on an Arab brotherly country. It can drag the whole region into a circle of violence.

"Israel must realise that its current policies will not lead to any stability in the region."

The Israeli attack was the biggest offensive against Syria since the 1973 Middle East War.

Syrian president Bashar Assad has repeatedly rejected American calls to close down the Damascus headquarters of the two main Palestinian terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Israeli security officials said the camps were terrorist training bases financed by Iran and used to educate Palestinians in the use of rifles and explosives and preparing suicide bomb harnesses.

An Islamic Jihad spokesman in Beirut denied that Ein Zaheb was anything more than a refugee camp. "We do not have any training facility outside Palestine," said the spokesman.

But a former member of a Palestinian terrorist group insisted that Ein Zaheb was a strategic facility.

"I was in Ein Zaheb," he said. "It is one of the main training bases and weapons storage facilities operated by the Palestinian groups. It operates under the protection of the Syrian government and is heavily guarded."

To back its case, the Israeli army released video footage, apparently filmed by Iranian TV 18 months ago, showing a camp and underground munitions stores. One scene showed tunnels packed with arms and ammunition.

Hamas vowed to exact revenge for the air strike.

Its armed wing, the Izz al-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, said in a statement: "Our response to this serious escalation will be one of deterrence and it will happen soon in the depths of the criminal Zionist entity."

The suicide bombing, which also injured 60, was carried out on behalf of Islamic Jihad by Hanadi Jaradat, a 29-year-old lawyer whose brother and cousin were killed in an Israeli army raid in June.

Early yesterday, her home in the West Bank town of Jenin was destroyed by Israeli troops who clamped a tight curfew on the town.

Inside Israel, security was stepped up in preparation for Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar.

Palestinians were banned from leaving the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Family wiped out

At Kibbutz Yagour, in northern Israel, Freddy Zer-Aviv, a prominent surgeon, was being comforted by friends after discovering that his wife Bruriya, son B'tzalel, daughter-in-law Karen and two grandchildren were among those killed.

His grandson Liran would have been four yesterday. His granddaughter Noya was only 14 months.

They were having a family lunch at the Maxim restaurant after a shopping trip to Haifa.

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