- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 23, 2005

LONDON — France joined the United States yesterday in calling for a firm stance against Syrian involvement in Lebanon, where Washington says Damascus’ intelligence services are still active and plotting against anti-Syrian figures.

“We are wondering about Syrian intelligence who may still be active in Lebanon,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in London.

“The international community will not accept a situation where attacks on civilian individuals continue,” he said. “Resolution 1559 must be respected and the firmness of the international community must be expressed in the coming days vis-a-vis Syria.”

Mr. Douste-Blazy referred to the U.N. Security Council resolution that demanded Syria end its three-decade-long presence in Lebanon by withdrawing both its military forces and intelligence operatives.

Damascus said in late April that its pullout was complete, and a U.N. team verified the absence of troops. Questions have remained, however, about security agents, who are much more difficult to find.

“There is no question that Syrian military intelligence agents have stayed behind, and that they are exerting a highly negative influence on the situation,” a senior State Department official said yesterday in London.

On Tuesday, Miss Rice accused Syria of contributing to the “atmosphere” that led to the latest assassination of an anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon, telling Damascus to “knock it off.”

Although she said she did not know who killed George Hawi, a former leader of the Lebanese Communist Party whose car was ripped by a bomb in Beirut, Miss Rice had no qualms about pointing the finger at Damascus.

“Yes, their military forces, their visible forces, have gone, but they clearly are still acting in Lebanon and are still a force that is not a stabilizing force there,” she said.

Miss Rice joined foreign ministers from the Group of Eight, composed of the seven leading industrialized countries and Russia, in London yesterday ahead of the annual summit of heads of state next month in Scotland.

The London meeting ended with a joint statement that was not as strong as Miss Rice and Mr. Douste-Blazy’s remarks, although it “deplored the series of political assassinations” in Lebanon and urged Syria to comply fully with Resolution 1559.

Newspaper columnist Samir Kassir was killed on June 2 in a car explosion in Beirut similar to the one that killed Mr. Hawi. In February, a powerful blast killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

The foreign ministers also discussed “the current situation and the ongoing police operations” in Zimbabwe, “which have reportedly left thousands of the most vulnerable homeless and destitute.”

“We call on the government of Zimbabwe to abide by the rule of law and respect human rights,” said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who chaired yesterday’s meeting.

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