Israel says election of Syria is a 'bad joke'

War against terrorism: UN
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The Independent Online

Syria's election to the powerful United Nations Security Council was described on Tuesday as a "bad joke" by Israel, which said that a country accused of sponsoring terrorism would be at the centre of debate on how to combat it.

However, British diplomats played down the importance of Syria's unopposed election as one of the 10 non-permanent members, which do not hold any veto power in the council.

The Syrian ambassador to the UN, Mikhail Wehbe, will sit beside Sir Jeremy Greenstock of Britain in council deliberations, from 1 January.

Syria, which is on the US State Department's terror list for funding militant Islamist groups such as Hizbollah, received "yes" votes from 160 of the 177 countries which voted in the UN general assembly's secret ballot. The US did not oppose the Syrian election and did not attempt to put up an alternative candidate, as it did last year in the case of Sudan.

However, a spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's, Raanan Gissin, said it was "a really bad joke that a country supporting 11 terrorist groups" had won a seat on the council where "it will have to determine how to fight terrorist activity.

"This country should denounce terrorism and take steps to stop these groups," Mr Gissin said. "It looks ludicrous that Syria has a seat on the security council in [New York] where the terror attacks were carried out."

In 1994, Rwanda held a non-permanent council seat during the genocide of its ethnic Tutsi minority, which complicated diplomatic discussions at a time of crisis.

Syria will take over from Tunisia on the security council. The other four rotating seats were won by Cameroon, Guinea, Bulgaria and Mexico.