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White House Supports Lebanon's Siniora Government

22 May 2007

Current violence seen aimed at disrupting international murder probe

Washington – The White House expressed its support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora as his government confronts militants linked to al-Qaida and continues to seek an international tribunal to investigate the 2005 murder of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  

"We believe those behind the attacks have two clear goals," White House spokesman Tony Snow said May 22, "to disrupt Lebanon's security and distract international attention from the effort to establish the special tribunal for Lebanon."

Lebanese security forces continue an operation to uproot approximately 50 militants from Nahr-el-Bared, home to 31,000 Palestinians outside of the port city of Tripoli.  The group, known as Fatah-al-Islam, is an offshoot of the pro-Syria Fatah Intifada and claims links to al-Qaida. (See related article.) 

At least 60 people have been killed in the fighting, according to media reports, including 15 militants, among whom reportedly were foreign fighters from Bangladesh, Yemen, and other Arab countries. 

The militants have been using sophisticated weaponry in the fighting, including anti-aircraft guns, mortars, and night vision goggles, and some were outfitted with explosive belts typically used by suicide bombers, according to Lebanese military officials.

"The Siniora government is fighting against a very tough extremist foe," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said later as she welcomed visiting Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, "But Lebanon is doing the right thing to try to protect its population, to assert its sovereignty, and so we are very supportive of the Sinora government and what it is trying to do."

An U.N. relief convoy was attacked as it attempted to deliver supplies to families trapped in their homes by the fighting, and aid workers expect as many as 10,000 residents to evacuate the area.  Lebanese media sources report that 200 area residents staged a demonstration to urge the militants to leave Nahr-el-Bared and stop endangering them.

Lebanese officials have accused neighboring Syria of instigating the violence as part of its effort to block investigation of the 2005 car bombing which killed the former prime minister.  Although Syria denies both charges, preliminary U.N. findings suggest that Syria’s security services might have been involved in the bombing. (See related article.)

“It is pretty clear that the Syrians have been resistant to taking a look at the assassination of Rafiq Hariri they've made no secret about that,” Snow said. “We think it's important to have an international tribunal to get to the bottom of it.”    

U.N. forces are deployed to southern Lebanon following the August 2006 conflict between Syrian-backed Hezbollah and neighboring Israel, and Snow said that Lebanon could count on continued U.S. support as it faces down the latest crisis.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack confirmed May 22 that, as a result of the latest conflict, the Siniora government has requested military assistance in addition to the $40 million delivered by the United States over the past two years.   

“We will not tolerate attempts by Syria, terrorist groups, or any others to delay or derail Lebanon's efforts to solidify its sovereignty, to seek justice in the Hariri case, or for that matter, to take on the violence that continues to plague the country,” Snow said. 

In New York, after a Security Council meeting on another issue May 22, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad responded to reporters’ questions about the violence in Lebanon and its relationship to the establishment of the tribunal.

"This violence will not deter the Security Council from moving forward.  It will redouble our resolve -- and I'm speaking in my national capacity now -- to move forward in the coming days.”

 

The Lebanese have asked for U.N. help, he said, “I believe it is not in our interest or the interest of the council to let them down."

For more information, see Lebanon Assistance.

(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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