Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Presbyterian Church meets Hezbollah and calls Israel "oppressive"

DAMASCUS, Syria -- The head of a visiting U.S. Presbyterian Church delegation called on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territories and said Monday that his church is studying the possibility of withholding investments to increase pressure on Israel.

'The occupation by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza must end because it is oppressive and destructive for the Palestinian people,' the Rev. Nile Harper said in an interview with The Associated Press.

He criticized as 'unhelpful' the barrier Israel is building in the West Bank to prevent Palestinian suicide bombings.

Harper, of Ann Arbor, Mich., warned that the General Assembly of his church, whose investments in U.S. firms total $8 billion, had instructed its investment agency to study the possibility of withdrawing its money from U.S. corporations whose products 'are being destructively used against the Palestinians' by Israel.

The 24-member delegation traveled to Lebanon on Sunday and met with the south Lebanon commander of Hezbollah, a group Washington calls terrorist but Lebanon sees as a legitimate resistance movement against Israeli occupation of Arab lands.

On Monday, they traveled to Syria, where they met with the minister of expatriates. They were scheduled to meet with President Bashar Assad on Tuesday and to travel to Jordan on Wednesday.

The meeting will aim to gauge the Syrian president's views on Syria's relationship with the United States, said the delegation's coordinator, Peter Sulyok.

'We are interested in peace and justice for Palestinians as well as in the relationship between Syria and Lebanon and Syria and Israel,' Sulyok said. 'We will be looking to see what new initiatives there might be, what possibilities there might be for peace.'