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Bush: Syria 'Trying to Get Back Into Lebanon'


President Bush says the survival of the Lebanese government is crucial, and says he is concerned Syria appears to be looking for an opportunity to exert its influence once again.

The President says Syria seems to be trying to take advantage of the current Middle East crisis.

He says as fighting rages between Israel and Hezbollah forces in Lebanon, Syria appears to be looking for an opening.

Last year, Syria ended its 28-year military presence in Lebanon in the face of U.N. pressure. Mr. Bush says the current violence could provide a cover for the Syrians to move back in.

"Syria is trying to get back into Lebanon, it looks like to me. We passed the United Nations Resolution 1559 and finally this young democracy became whole by getting Syria out. And there are suspicions that the instability created by the Hezbollah attacks will cause some in Lebanon to invite Syria back in and that would be against the United Nations policy and it is against the U.S. policy," he said.

Speaking to reporters at the end of a meeting with members of the U.S. Congress, Mr. Bush once again said Israel has a right to self-defense. But he said the Israelis should be careful. "We have made it very clear that Israel should be allowed to defend herself. We've asked that as she does so, that she be mindful of the Siniora government. It is very important that this government in Lebanon succeed and survive," he said.

The president stressed, as he has since the start of the bloodshed last week, that the root cause of the violence is Hezbollah and its backers in Syria and Iran. Earlier, White House Spokesman Tony Snow said the next steps are up to them. "Hezbollah started this and Iran and Syria, its backers, ought to be using their influence to get Hezbollah to stop firing rockets and return the soldiers," he said.

Snow said President Bush does not believe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is doing all he can to promote stability. The White House spokesman said the Syrian leader is looking the other way while terrorists plan and conduct operations from his soil.

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