Rice to Syria: 'Knock it off' in Lebanon


Tue Jun 21, 2:16 PM ET

BRUSSELS (AFP) - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice warned Syria to "knock it off" and end interference in Lebanon she said contributed at least indirectly to the latest political assassination in Beirut.

Rice said, en route from a Middle East swing, that she did not know who was behind the death of an anti-Syrian politician and former head of the Lebanese communist party, George Hawi, whose car was blown up earlier on Tuesday.

But she added: "There is an atmosphere of instability (in Lebanon) and Syria's activities are part of that context and part of that atmosphere, and they need to knock it off."

Her remarks constituted one of the US administration's most explicit accusations of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs since Damascus pulled its remaining troops out of the country in April to end a 29-year presence.

"Yes, their military forces, their visible forces are gone but they are clearly still acting in Lebanon and are still a force that is not a stabilising force there," Rice told reporters.

Washington has questioned whether Syria has pulled all its intelligence officers out as well and expressed concern about the possible existence of a "hit list" of anti-Syrian figures targeted for assassination.

But Rice appeared to harden her rhetoric after the second political killing this month and the third since February, when former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri died in a massive bomb attack on his motorcade.

"The instability that continues to be a part of the Lebanese landscape (is) due to the fact that I think there is still uncertainty about Syrian activities in Lebanon," the top US envoy said as she headed to Brussels for an international conference on Iraq.

"I think that the Syrians have got to look at what they are doing and they've got to stop whatever they are doing there that is causing destabilization of the environment there," she said.

The White House also strongly condemned the slaying, linking it to Syria's longstanding influence over its smaller neighbor and demanding a full investigation.

The latest bombing came after Lebanon completed a round of parliamentary elections, the country's first polls since the Syrian military pullout.

"The Lebanese people have spoken," 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".