US accuses Syria of interfering in Lebanon's elections

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The Independent US

The US has stepped up its pressure on Syria by accusing Damascus of interfering in the elections in Lebanon and of reneging on its undertaking to pull all its intelligence operatives out of that country.

In unusually blunt terms, the White House declared that Syrian intelligence was again meddling in Lebanon's internal affairs, despite the assertion of the Assad regime that it had withdrawn its personnel - all 14,000 troops and intelligence officials alike - from Lebanon by 26 April.

Having left by the front door, the Bush administration contends, the intelligence officials have been returning by the back door, with plans that even include staging assassination attempts against prominent Lebanese politicians.

"We are deeply concerned about Syria's interference and intimidation inside Lebanon," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said yesterday.

Earlier, The New York Times cited reports of a "hit list" of Lebanese targets drawn by Syrian operatives, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February and the murder this month of Samir Kassir, who was a well-known Lebanese journalist.

"When Lebanese sources tell us they are hearing that the Kassir killing will be followed by others, we are taking it seriously," the Times quoted an unidentified a senior US official as saying.

Mr McClellan said Washington wanted the United Nations to send monitors back to Lebanon, even though a UN team as recently as 23 May gave Syria a clean bil of health, saying it had fully complied with the September 2004 Security Council resolution that demanded a total Syrian withdrawal.

The latest accusations are part of a deliberate US strategy to weaken, and ultimately topple, the Baathist regime of President Bashar al-Assad - in large part by exploiting anger throughout the region over Syria's role in Lebanon and its suspected hand in the assassination of Hariri.

Despite many denials by Mr Assad, the US is convinced that Syria has offered sanctuary to insurgents, and allowed militants transit to join the resistance against the US.

¿ Earlier, The New York Times cited reports of a "hit list" of Lebanese targets drawn by Syrian operatives, after the assassination of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February and the murder this month of Samir Kassir, a well-known Lebanese journalist.

"When Lebanese sources tell us they are hearing that the Kassir killing will be followed by others, we are taking it seriously," the Times quoted an unidentified a senior US official as saying.

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