US Cautions Syria on Lebanon Border Moves
The United States is cautioning Syria against new intervention in Lebanon following a terrorist attack in Damascus late last month that Syria has blamed on Lebanon-based militants. U.S. officials say they have been monitoring Syrian military activity along the Lebanese border.
U.S. officials are expressing concern about Syrian military moves along the Lebanese border and the United States is publicly warning Damascus not to use recent terrorist attacks as a pretext for re-entering Lebanon.
Syrian authorities blame al-Qaida-inspired militants in northern Lebanon for a September 27 car bomb attack in Damascus near a building occupied by Syrian security services that killed at least 17 people.
Syrian officials said last week the explosives-laden vehicle had entered Syria from Lebanon a day before the attack and the driver, who was killed in the operation, was linked to a Lebanese radical group by other suspects.
Two days after the Damascus attack, a car bomb exploded near a Lebanese army bus in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli, killing five people including four soldiers. That attack was also attributed to Islamic militants from the area.
The United States condemned both attacks, calling the bombing in Damascus particularly abhorrent because it came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
But State Department Deputy Spokesman Robert Wood said Syria should not use it as an excuse for returning military forces to Lebanon. "Any intervention by Syrian troops into Lebanon would be unacceptable. The recent terrorist attacks that took place in Tripoli and Damascus should not serve a pretext for further Syrian military engagement, and should not be used to interfere in Lebanese internal affairs," said Wood.
News reports from Lebanon say about 10,000 Syrian troops have been deployed along the northern part of Syria's border with Lebanon, not far from Tripoli.
Lebanese authorities are reported to be considering their own crackdown on militants around Tripoli, where heavy clashes occurred last year between Lebanese forces and militants in a Palestinian refugee camp.
A senior State Department official said the Lebanese government needs to be able to sort out its affairs without Syrian interference, military or political. He said Damascus authorities know that if they want to return to the good graces of the international community there can be no return to its past role in Lebanese affairs.
Syrian troops left Lebanon under international pressure in 2005 after nearly 30 years of occupation.
U.S.-Syrian relations went into a deep freeze that same year after the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in which Syrian agents were implicated by U.N. investigators.
But bilateral contacts have increased in recent weeks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meeting briefly with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem two weeks ago at the United Nations.
The Syrian official also had a longer U.N. meeting with Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Welch.