- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Bush administration officials yesterday expressed concerned about reports that Syrian intelligence has drawn up a hit list of top Lebanese political leaders as Lebanon prepares to vote in another round of parliamentary elections tomorrow.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said they had received information about the list of assassination targets from Beirut.

?The Lebanese told us about the list. We haven’t seen it, but we are not questioning its existence,? one official said.

Asked about the reports, spokesmen at the White House and the State Department declined to comment. A Syrian official denied the accusation.

The disclosure came as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Security Council ambassadors yesterday that he would send a U.N. verification team back to Lebanon to determine whether Syrian intelligence agents are still in the country.

In announcing the decision, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said that a date for the team’s visit had not yet been set.

A U.N. monitoring team reported on May 23 that ?no Syrian military intelligence personnel remain in Lebanon in known locations or in military uniform.?

But Lebanese opposition leader Walid Jumblatt said earlier this week that Syrian intelligence officials had been spotted in the eastern Bekaa Valley and central Lebanon.

President Bush, asked yesterday about reports of Syria’s continued presence, said: ?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.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Syria must let elections proceed without “outside interference or intimidation.”

“The Lebanese people now have an opportunity to take control and define their own future free of outside interference,” he said.

“Syria needs to comply fully with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1559, and that means getting all their intelligence operatives out of Lebanon,” Mr. McClellan said.

Syrian Expatriates Minister Buthaina Shaaban told CNN yesterday that Syria had pulled all personnel from Lebanon and she denied that a list of assassination targets existed.

“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 [as] they are for Lebanon and, therefore, it is impossible for Syria to contemplate such a thing,” she told CNN.

The latest accusations against Syria come as Lebanon prepares to vote in the third phase of parliamentary elections tomorrow.

The balloting is to take place in the predominantly Christian region of Mount Lebanon.

“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 yesterday.

“And we believe that that pattern … is designed to try to influence the Lebanese people as they continue their voting in the polls,” he said.

On Thursday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed concern about the possibility of a “pattern” of political killings.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in February with a massive bomb in downtown Beirut, and anti-Syrian columnist Samir Kassir was killed last week in Beirut.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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