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US Steps Up Pressure on Syria

  • Robert Raffaele

The Bush administration is stepping up its pressure on Syria - insisting on an immediate withdraw from neighboring Lebanon and blaming terrorists based in Syria for a deadly bomb attack in Tel Aviv.

U.S. President George Bush says his administration is sending a clear signal to Syria. During an appearance in Maryland, Mister Bush praised comments made by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier the previous day in London. Secretary Rice and Mister Barnier insisted Syria immediately comply with a U.N. resolution regarding the removal of all foreign troops from neighboring Lebanon.

"Both of them stood up and said loud and clear to Syria, `You get your troops and your secret services out of Lebanon so that good democracy has a chance to flourish," says president Bush.

The U.S. is also pointing the finger at Syria in connection with a deadly bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed five Israelis. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Washington had what she called "firm evidence" that Syria played a role.

"There is evidence that the Palestinian Islamic Jihad headquartered in Syria was, in fact, involved with the planning of those attacks in Tel Aviv. And so the Syrians have a lot to answer for," says Dr. Rice.

Neither Secretary Rice nor other Bush administration officials offered specifics to support those allegations. Syria has about 15-thousand troops in Lebanon. Syrian President Bashar Assad told Time magazine he expects his troops will leave Lebanon in a matter of months, but did not give a definitive timetable.

International criticism of Syria's presence in Lebanon escalated in recent weeks, following the car bombing which killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 17 other people February 14th. Syria has denied any involvement in the assassination. But protesters in Lebanon have staged numerous demonstrations, calling for Syria to leave their country. Those protests led to the resignation of Lebanon's pro-Syria Cabinet Monday.

Lebanese opposition legislators, meeting near Beirut Wednesday, also called for a complete and immediate Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon.

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