U.S. Diplomats Accused of Espionage
DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) _ The Syrian Foreign Ministry said Friday that two U.S. diplomats who were briefly detained last week by Palestinian guerrillas had been photographing a Palestinian camp.
The guerrilla captors, the radical Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command headed by Ahmed Jibril, claimed the diplomats were working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
In Washington, the State Department said Thursday that two embassy officials were detained by the PFLP-GC outside Damascus for more than eight hours before being handed over unharmed to Syrian authorities.
State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said the government filed a protest with Syria over the incident and urged Syria to take action against the PFLP- GC, which she called a terrorist group.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement Friday said Col. Clifford R. Ward, a military attache at the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, and his assistant Maj. Peter Seegel, were caught shooting pictures of a PFLP-GC camp outside the Syrian capital.
The statement said PFLP-GC guerrillas detained the two diplomats because they were in a forbidden zone and carried maps and cameras equipped with zoom lenses.
″PFLP-GC guards arrested them while filming ... but the Foreign Ministry called the United States’ ambassador Edward Djerejian and turned over the two men to him, unharmed,″ the statement added.
The Syrian-backed Palestinian group issued a statement saying the two claimed they were Canadian embassy officials when they were arrested for shooting pictures of one of the group’s camps, 25 miles outside Damascus.
The PFLP-GC said the diplomats’ identities were later revealed and that they were treated well before being handed over to the Syrian authorities along ″with their espionage material.″
″This is not the first time in which the CIA carries out an espionage operation to the benefit of the Israeli services,″ the guerrillas said.
They said the United States aimed at ″harming the struggle of the PFLP-GC and at practicing more pressures to blackmail Syria and make the Syrian stands more flexible to U.S.-Israeli schemes.″
The group, formed in 1968 by Jibril, a former Syrian army officer, is fiercely opposed to Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization.
The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said Djerejian was shown the diplomats’ belongings and was asked to provide a U.S. government explanation for their behavior ″which is incompatible with the regulations of the host country and contradicts with diplomatic activity.″
It said that the U.S. thanked the Syrian government for their handling of the incident in a reply delivered on Friday, but failed to provide the required explanations.
The ministry statement also reiterated the Syrian position of denouncing terrorism but making a distinction between terrorism and legitimate freedom- fighting against occupying forces.
The statement said Ms. Beck’s charges against the guerrillas was damaging to the Palestinian people’s right to fight for self-determination.