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U.S. Says Syria Has Agents in Lebanon

June 11, 2005|From Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Syria has not fully withdrawn its intelligence forces from neighboring Lebanon and is interfering with elections there, perhaps even organizing political assassinations, the Bush administration alleged Friday.

U.S. officials stopped short of accusing the Syrians of carrying out either of two recent political killings.

"There are reports that we have been hearing about for some time about Syrian hit lists, targeting key Lebanese public figures of various political and religious persuasion, for assassination," White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said.

Syrian officials denied the allegations of intelligence agents in Lebanon, saying they were "nonobjective and untrue."

"All Syrian troops, of all their different divisions, have withdrawn from Lebanon, and this was verified by the United Nations," Information Minister Mahdi Dakhlallah told Syria's official SANA news agency.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan is sending inspectors back to Lebanon to check reports that Syrian intelligence officials may still be operating in the smaller country, a U.N. official said Friday.

A senior State Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because sensitive intelligence was involved said the United States thinks reports of a hit list are credible.

The administration offered no specifics but said Syria had continued a pattern of intimidation born of nearly two decades of de facto political and military control in Lebanon.

The U.S. salvo appeared aimed at asserting international disapproval of Syrian influence as Lebanese elections continue this weekend.

"We do see a pattern of the use of threat and violence to create an atmosphere of intimidation inside Lebanon," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

A team monitoring Syria's compliance with the U.N. demand for a pullout said May 23 that all locations formerly used by Syria's military intelligence apparatus were empty.

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