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ARLINGTON, Va. — Syria is continuing to send weapons over the Iraqi border to replenish Saddam Hussein’s forces, ignoring warnings from the U.S. government to stop aiding the beleaguered regime, senior defense officials said Thursday.

On March 28, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made the surprising announcement that U.S. intelligence collectors “have seen military supplies and equipment moving across the border” from Syria, including night vision goggles.

“To the extent that continues, we will consider it a hostile act and hold the government of Syria responsible,” Rumsfeld said at the time.

During Thursday’s briefing to Pentagon reporters, Rumsfeld said, “we have seen that Syria is continuing to conduct itself as it had been.”

The defense leader declined to state what kind of response the U.S. government plans if Syria continues to provide weapons to Iraq.

Meanwhile, Rumsfeld also had warned the Iranian government not to interfere with U.S. operations, saying that “hundreds” of anti-Saddam Iraqis who have been funded and trained by the government of Iran are now moving back into Iraq and are eager to get involved in the fight now under way.

On Thursday, Rumsfeld said he “had no way of knowing what Iran’s reaction was” to his warnings.

Rumsfeld was very clear Thursday in his reaction to news that some third-party countries, such as Russia and Saudi Arabia, may be trying to broker a cease-fire with Saddam Hussein in order to prevent what will probably be a difficult battle for Baghdad.

“The inevitable effect [of such efforts], let there be no doubt, is to give hope and comfort to the regime,” he said.

The time for agreements between Saddam Hussein and the international community is long past, Rumsfeld said. The regime leader’s final opportunity to step down and decamp for safer climes ended when President Bush’s 48-hour ultimatum deadline expired on March 19.

With the battle joined and U.S. troops on the verge of entering Baghdad, there is “not a chance that there’s going to be a deal,” Rumsfeld said. “For the senior leadership, their fate is now sealed.”


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