UN mission for Lebanon

US President George W. Bush also stepped up pressure on Damascus after a key Lebanese opposition figure said that Syrian intelligence agents remain in
Lebanon and additional political murders could be expected.

The UN mission will check on the status of implementation of Resolution 1559, passed by the Security Council in September, demanding the pullout of all Syrian forces from Lebanon, Mr Annan’s spokesman Fred Eckhard said on Friday. “No date has yet been set,” said Mr Eckhard.

A UN verification mission had reported on May 23 that Syria had “fully” withdrawn from its neighbour, in compliance with the resolution passed last year.

However, in a television interview late Thursday night, Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said the “entire opposition is being targeted,” repeating an accusation he has often made since the murder in February of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

“The assassinations will continue with or without the knowledge of Syrian
President Bashar al-Assad,” he charged.

Jumblatt spoke only a week after the latest political killing, of prominent anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir, and his comments were swiftly echoed by US officials, including President Bush.

President Bush, calling Friday for Damascus to pull its intelligence services out of Lebanon, said he was “disturbed” by reports of their presence in Lebanon.

“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,” Syria needs to “not only remove their military, but to remove intelligence officers as well.”

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States was “deeply concerned about Syria’s interference and intimidation inside Lebanon.” He welcomed the return of the UN mission.

Mr McClellan also spoke of a Syrian “hit list” of opponents of its influence.

“There are reports that we have been hearing about for some time about a
Syrian hit list targeting key Lebanese public figures of various political and religious persuasions for assassination,” McClellan told a briefing.

He said the reports had resurfaced following Kassir’s assassination.

The State Department has also warned about Syria’s role in Lebanon’s four-part elections currently half way through, but spokesman Sean McCormack held back on saying whether sanctions would be applied under the Syria Accountability Act.

Syria has strongly denied that any of its forces remain in the neighboring country where it has had a predominant influence for three decades.

In Damascus, Information Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah said the comments by
Mr Bush and other US administration officials were “false and lacking in objectivity.”

“All Syrian forces, whatever their service, have been withdrawn from
Lebanon,” the minister said.

Terje Roed-Larsen, the UN secretary general’s envoy for Lebanon, is to meet Syria’s President Bashir Al-Assad in Damascus on Sunday to discuss the Syrian withdrawal and the UN resolution.