- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

The United States yesterday accused Syria of continuing to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs and obstructing the work of U.N. monitors trying to verify the withdrawal of Syrian forces.

The United Nations said its monitoring team was refused access to a Damascus-backed Palestinian militia’s camp in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley near the Syrian border suspected of harboring Syrian intelligence agents.

The three-person team was met by warning shots fired by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group of Palestinian refugees based in Damascus, U.N. officials said.

The Bush administration, renewing its demand that all Syrian intelligence personnel leave Lebanon immediately, said Damascus is still not treating its neighbor as a sovereign state.

“If Syria is to withdraw all its personnel — including all its intelligence personnel from Lebanon — and establish a diplomatic relationship with Lebanon, I don’t think anybody would have a problem with that, as long as they stop interfering in Lebanese internal affairs,” State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Washington last month urged the two countries to open embassies in each other’s capitals, but that call has so far been ignored.

“Until the U.N. is able to get in there and fully verify that they have all been withdrawn, there is still this open question as to whether they really have all been withdrawn,” Mr. Boucher said.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Kofi Annan was “gravely concerned” about the monitors’ treatment in the Bekaa Valley.

“The secretary-general deplores this incident,” Mr. Dujarric said. “He expects the government of Lebanon to ensure the safety of the verification mission. He expects the mission to be afforded full and unconditional freedom of movement throughout Lebanon at all times.”

PFLP members were quoted by wire reports as saying that the U.N. team was not allowed in the camp because the guerrillas were not expecting the monitors and were not sure of their identity.

Syria said last week that all its forces had left Lebanon after a nearly three-decade presence there, and Mr. Annan sent the monitors to verify the withdrawal.

Mr. Dujarric said the team wanted to inspect the Palestinian camp because it had information that Syrian agents might be hiding there.

Also yesterday, the Bush administration warned Damascus that it has to do much more to prevent its banking system from being used by terrorists if it wants to retain access to hard currency.

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