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U.S. confirms construction at Israel's Syria target

Washington to step up satellite monitoring of region

From David Ensor and Andrea Koppel
CNN Washington Bureau


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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials confirmed Friday that there is evidence of "recent construction" at the site in Syria that was the target of an Israeli airstrike last weekend.

Sources said U.S. intelligence picked up indications of structural improvements at the site, which they said a Palestinian terrorist group used as a training facility several years ago.

That group, sources said, was the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, whose leader lives in Damascus.

U.S. and Israeli officials have been concerned that Syria may allow Palestinian Islamic Jihad to refurbish the camp and use it to train terrorists to attack Israel, the sources said.

Israel launched an airstrike against the site Sunday.

Syria said the site was for civilian use, and claimed the airstrike violated the U.N. Charter and the 1974 disengagement agreement that followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Israel said it acted in self-defense and called the airstrike a "measured defensive operation" aimed at a training camp used by Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian militant group designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing October 4 that killed 19 people in Haifa.

A State Department official said the United States received intelligence information from Israel in recent days and had seen satellite images that had demonstrated that work was under way to widen and improve roads leading to the camp.

The State Department official said the belief is that the camp had been used recently and that several dozen fighters were being housed there.

President Bush has shown public support for Israel's actions.

Bush said Monday that he had made clear to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that "Israel's got a right to defend herself, that Israel must not feel constrained in terms of defense of the homeland."

A U.S. intelligence community official said Thursday that U.S. intelligence had prestrike reconnaissance imagery of the Ein Saheb camp and has gathered additional imagery since the attack.

The official also said the United States would increase its surveillance of the region to get an early warning of any military moves by either side, the source said.

The area surrounding the Syria-Iraq border is already under close surveillance because of a continuing concern about fighters crossing into Iraq from Syria

The U.S. for years has included Syria in its list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The House International Relations Committee recommended approval this week of a bill that would authorize Bush to impose economic and diplomatic sanctions against Syria.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr contributed to this report.


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