Lebanon, Syria criticize US air screening rules

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BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon and Syria criticized Tuesday the tight security screening recently introduced by the United States against travelers from the two Arab nations, branding the measures a form of discrimination and warning they might lash back with similar measures.

President Barack Obama’s administration ordered the changes after the alleged attempt by a Nigerian man to blow up a jetliner bound to Detroit from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration said enhanced screening techniques would include full-body pat-downs, searches of carryon bags, full-body scanning and explosive-detection technology.

“It is the sovereign right of the USA to chose to protect its citizens the way it deems most appropriate,” Lebanon’s Information Minister Tarek Mitri told reporters. “What is under question is the fact that citizens of different countries are singled out in a discriminatory fashion.”

In Syria, the state-run news agency said Washington’s top diplomat in Damascus was summoned to the Foreign Ministry and told the new measures constituted “unfriendly behavior.” No Syrian citizen was ever involved in terror attacks against the U.S., the agency noted.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry also informed the American diplomat that Damascus could be left with no choice but to introduce similar measures against U.S. citizens.

The U.S. demanded more careful screening for people who are citizens of, or are flying from, 14 nations deemed security risks. Beside Syria and Lebanon, they include Cuba, Iran, Sudan, Iraq, Algeria, Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

There are no direct flights from Syria or Lebanon to the United States.

The row over airport security could hinder the slow improvement of relations between Damascus and Washington after years of tensions. The United States withdrew its ambassador to Syria in 2005 following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria denies charges by some Lebanese officials that it was behind the killing.