Sharon calls Syria and Iran sponsors of terrorism

In a policy speech to parliament Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the international community for the first time is taking a stand against "extremist countries" and singled out Syria and Iran as sponsors of terrorism. Sharon also reaffirmed his support for the international "road map" peace plan and said Israel would quickly complete construction of its West Bank separation barrier.

Sharon's speech opened what is expected to be a stormy winter term in parliament. His government is struggling to secure a majority in parliament, and early elections are seen as likely. The scheduled vote is in November 2006, the AP reminds.

The prime minister said Israel "will continue to defend itself and hit the perpetrators of terrorism," referring to a suicide bombing last week that killed five Israelis. "We have no choice."

"The call of the president of Iran saying he wants to wipe out Israel from the map expresses what many in the region want but are afraid to say aloud," Sharon told legislators.

"Their murderous intentions are expressed daily in terror attacks like the ones we saw in the past week," he said. "The dispatchers of terrorists from Iran and Damascus, from Gaza and Jenin, from Tulkarem and from Qabatiyeh, from Hebron and Bethlehem, do not need reasons or excuses, only an opportunity."

Sharon said that for the first time in years, "the United Nations is standing against extremist countries like Iran and Syria that threaten the region."

Turning to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sharon said Israell will keep building the separation barrier with "full energy," and without budgetary limitations. Israel says the barrier is meant to keep out Palestinian attackers, while the Palestinians accuse Sharon of drawing a political border without waiting for a peace deal.

In some areas, the barrier cuts deep into the West Bank, hampering access of thousands of Palestinians to lands, jobs and schools.

Sharon reaffirmed his support for the road map, saying it was the "only plan that gives hope for peace and security for both peoples." The road map envisions a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and Palestinians have accused Sharon of trying to avoid a resumption of peace talks so he won't have to make concessions.

In his brief speech, Sharon made no mention of Israel's pullout from the Gaza Strip, completed last month.