Tuesday, June 21, 2005

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accused Syria of contributing to the “atmosphere” that led to the assassination of an anti-Syrian politician in Lebanon yesterday, 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.

“There is a context and an atmosphere of instability” in Lebanon, she told reporters on her plane as she wrapped up a four-day trip in the Middle East. “Syria’s activities are part of that context and a part of that atmosphere, and they need to knock it off.”

Washington maintains that Syrian intelligence is still operating in Lebanon, even though its troops left the country in April after nearly three decades.

“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,” Miss Rice said as she flew to Brussels for an international conference on Iraq today.

“They have got to stop whatever they are doing there that is causing destabilization of the [Lebanese] environment,” she said.

Mr. Hawi’s assassination was the second of an anti-Syrian figure in Beirut this month. News paper columnist Samir Kassir was killed on June 2 in a similar car explosion outside his home.

In February, a powerful blast killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a development that intensified the pressure on Damascus to pull its forces out of Lebanon.

Mr. Hawi’s stepson Rafi Madoyan, also a Syrian critic, blamed yesterday’s bombing on pro-Syrian chiefs of Lebanon’s security agencies, even though some of them have resigned in recent months.

“The security agencies continue to kill the democrats and are trying to assassinate democracy in Lebanon and the independence uprising,” Mr. Madoyan told reporters in Beirut. “It is not just George Hawi; there are many others on the hit list.”

The Bush administration expressed concern about a hit list earlier this month, saying it had received information about its existence from Lebanese officials. Damascus has denied similar accusations in the past.

Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, who has been asked to resign by some politicians in recent months, denounced Mr. Hawi’s slaying and promised an investigation.

“With regard to the persistent suggestion that the president is linked to the so-called security state, everyone knows that he does not directly supervise the security agencies,” Mr. Lahoud’s office said in a statement.

The assassination took place two days after the last round of Lebanon’s parliamentary elections, the first without Syrian military presence in the country.

An anti-Syrian coalition led by Mr. Hariri’s son Saad won the elections, preliminary results show.

“The Lebanese people have spoken,” Miss Rice said. “They are going to try and form a government and they need to be able to do that free of the foreign influence that’s held them back for 30 years.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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