Syria denies US charge

Syria has denied a US charge that it has drawn up an assassination hit list targeting Lebanese political leaders.

    Anti-Syrian feelings have been running high in Lebanon

    Syrian Expatriates Minister Buthaina Shaaban, who often speaks for the government, on Friday said Syria had completely withdrawn from Lebanon and denied that Damascus had drawn up an assassination hit list in Lebanon.

       

    "Syria never had a history of hit lists... I think they should look somewhere else unless they want to use this as a pretext to target Syria without finding any proof," she said.

       

    "The killings in Lebanon are as much dangerous for Syria than they are for Lebanon and therefore it is impossible for Syria to contemplate such a thing," she told CNN, speaking in English.

    Earlier on Friday, the United States accused Syria of drawing up a list of Lebanese politicians for assassinations.

    The accusation by a senior Washington official came on a day when President George Bush called on Damascus to respond to reports its intelligence agents are still operating in Lebanon.

    "I think they should look somewhere else unless they want to use this as a pretext to target Syria without finding any proof"

    Buthaina Shaaban,
    Syrian Expatriates Minister



    "Obviously we are going to follow up on these troubling reports, and we expect the Syrian government to follow up on these troubling reports," Bush said on Friday.

    "Our message to Syria, and it's not just the message of the United States - the United Nations has said the same thing - is that in order for Lebanon to be free, is for Syria to not only remove her military but to remove intelligence officers as well," Bush said.

    Hit list

    Bush made his comments after a senior administration official said Washington had received what it believes to be credible information that Syria has compiled a hit list targeting prominent Lebanese political leaders "in an attempt to intimidate the Lebanese people".

    The official said the information came from "a variety of credible Lebanese sources" following the assassinations of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in February and anti-Syrian columnist Samir Kassir last week.

    "We see these claims as credible," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to administration policy against speaking openly on intelligence.

    Pattern alleged

    US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday had expressed concern about the possibility of a "pattern" of political killings. 

    The US blames Syria for the
    recent killings in Lebanon

    White House spokesman Scott McClellan, asked about the report of a hit list, said he could not comment on intelligence matters.

    But the White House accused Syria of interference and intimidation inside Lebanon during its national elections, and demanded that it remove all of its intelligence agents from the country.

    Lebanon's elections, the first in three decades without a Syrian military presence, are being held in different regions over four weeks from 29 May to 19 June.
     
    Damascus, which pulled its troops out of Lebanon in April, has denied there are any intelligence agents left.
      
    McClellan repeated a call for the United Nations to send verification teams back to Lebanon and said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was considering the possibility.

    "It's important for the international community to send a clear message to Syria that it must stop meddling in Lebanon," he said.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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