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US House of Representatives Pays Tribute to Hariri

The U.S. House of Representatives has paid tribute to former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in a bomb attack in Beirut Monday. Lawmakers combined their tributes to Mr. Hariri with calls for Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon, as we hear from VOA's Dan Robinson on Capitol Hill.

House lawmakers described Mr. Hariri as a philanthropist who chose to put the future of Lebanon above political interests and used his own funds to assist the country's economic reconstruction after years of civil war.

The tributes came as part of consideration of a resolution honoring the former Lebanese leader, a final vote on which was postponed until Thursday.

But much of the focus during consideration of the resolution honoring Mr. Hariri was devoted to criticism of Syria's continuing occupation of Lebanon. Syria still has 14-thousand troops in the country.

Darrell Issa, a California Republican, says demonstrations by Lebanese calling for Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon underscore the key issue facing the country:

"There is no proof that Syria was directly responsible for this assassination,” he said. “But there is no doubt that Syria has remained in Lebanon far longer either than their mandate, or than in the agreements under the Taif Accords of 1989."

Nick Rahall, a West Virginia Democrat with family roots in Lebanon, took to the floor of the House to denounce the killing.

"It was a criminal act, it was a heinous act of terrorism, of those who don't have the courage to work through the political system or differences. I do not know who is to blame, certainly there are enough outside forces in the region that once again are looking to Lebanon to play their ugly, deadly games," he said.

Amid continuing Syrian government denials it had anything to do with Mr. Hariri's killing, U.S. lawmakers say they're looking forward to hearing the results of an investigation into the bombing that killed him and more than a dozen others.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus following the bomb attack, and has again demanded that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon.

Congressman Eliot Engel, who wrote the Syria Accountability Act Congress approved last year imposing sanctions on Damascus, said again Wednesday he is convinced it had something to do with the killing of Mr. Hariri:

"It is clear to me, although the evidence is being gathered, but I suspect that this assassination has some ties to Damascus, to the regime in Damascus,” he noted. “The Syrians have allowed Lebanon to destablize, and this is part and parcel of the result."

Congressman Engel has urged the Bush administration to ensure that the Syria Accountability Act is fully implemented.

That law calls on Syria, among other things, to halt support for terrorism, end its occupation of Lebanon, and stop development of any weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.