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Friday, March 28, 2003 Adar2 24, 5763 Israel Time:  11:39  (GMT+3)
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Syria allows dozens of volunteers to cross into
Iraq to fight coalition
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service

Syria is granting free passage across its border with Iraq to volunteers who wish to join the fight against the U.S. and British forces. Thus far, dozens of volunteers, primarily Palestinians from the refugee camps in Lebanon, have crossed over into Iraq through Syrian-controlled border posts.

The passage of volunteers with Damascus's consent has given rise to the theory that the U.S.-fired missile that struck a Syrian bus traveling in Iraq was an intentional attack on a busload of such volunteers. The bus left Damascus on Sunday and was hit by the missile some 50 kilometers inside Iraqi territory. The missile strike left five people dead and dozens injured.

Speaking on the subject, the Syrian military analyst, Hitham al-Kilani, said in an interview on Al Jazeera, on 24 March, that "the Syrian border was opened to Syrian, Arab and Muslim volunteers wishing to reach Iraq and participate in the fighting against the American invasion."

Al Kilani said that the Syrian border was also open to Iraqi refugees seeking to enter Syria as a result of the fighting in their country.

If the attack against the bus was not an accident, it shows that U.S. intelligence is aware of the movement of these volunteers, via Syria, into Iraq.

While many Arab states have voiced opposition to the American offensive in Iraq, Syria is the sole country that has opened its border to volunteers seeking to join the Iraqi forces. Even Iran blocked its border and is not allowing passage into Iraq from its territory. The Turkish border is also blocked and the Jordanians are also being very strict.

It has been reported that there are many volunteers in Jordan who are interested in crossing into Iraq, but they know that the border is closed.

The official explanation for closing the border crossings of all the countries bordering Iraq is that it the moves come to prevent a massive exodus of refugees from Iraq; but the crossings have also been closed so as to keep those wishing to join the fight against the coalition forces from reaching Iraq. Hamas has recently called on all of Iraq's neighbors to open their borders and allow volunteers through.

The precise number of volunteers crossing from Syria into Iraq is not known, but Lebanese sources estimate that many dozens have already done so.

The Syrian mufti, Ahmed Kaftaru - a government official - recently called on Muslims worldwide to employ all means, including suicide operations, to defeat the American-British-Zionist aggression.

A second Syrian official, who heads the information division of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, described the United States as "the empire of murder and destruction."

Syria's active support for Saddam Hussein has been particularly evident in recent months, with Damascus even purchasing military equipment on behalf of the Iraqi army. The equipment was reportedly delivered from its country of origin to the Syrian port of Latakia and then carried on trucks to Iraq. The purchases were made from a number of East European countries, and the equipment included engines for Russian-made tanks and aircraft. Also purchased were tank carriers, probably from Germany.

Report: Saddam selling off valuables to prepare for exile
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has made extensive preparations to flee Iraq, and he and several of his most senior aides - including Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz - have already smuggled family members out to Syria, the British Daily Telegraph reported on Friday.

The Telegraph reported that Saddam has been selling off property and valuables to raise millions for his exile and has an aircraft waiting on 24-hour-a-day standby to fly him out of the country.

In addition, Saddam's first wife Sajida fled to Damascus days before the Baghdad attack began, along with three truckloads of possessions and 60 bodyguards, the paper reported. She is reportedly staying with Iraq's ambassador to Syria.

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