The United States has condemned Tuesday's killing of former Lebanese communist party leader George Hawi and urged a full and transparent investigation of the car bomb slaying of the anti-Syrian politician. While not directly accusing Syria of the murder, the Bush administration said Damascus is contributing to an atmosphere of instability in Lebanon.
The tone of U.S. reaction to the latest political killing was set by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said in Brussels that Syria is still acting in Lebanon despite its troop withdrawal and that authorities in Damascus, in her words, need to knock it off, or cease such involvement.
Neither Ms. Rice nor State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli, who briefed reporters here, directly blamed Syria for killing Mr. Hawi, a veteran leftwing politician who became a strident foe of Syrian involvement in Lebanese affairs.
But the secretary of state said Syria is still a force in Lebanon and not a stabilizing force, a comment echoed by Spokesman Ereli.
"Clearly when you have four assassinations in five months, there is an atmosphere and context of instability. We believe Syria is contributing to that instability, first and foremost because it hasn't removed all its intelligence assets, and its intelligence network continues to be active in Lebanon," he noted.
Mr. Ereli said it is not just Secretary Rice alleging the continued Syrian presence, but United Nations special envoy for Lebanon Terje Roed-Larsen, who reported to Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the issue late last month.
Mr. Larsen cited persistent and continuing reports of a Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon despite its obligation to withdraw those agents under last September's U.N. Security Council resolution 15-59.
Mr. Ereli recalled the State Department's expression of concern earlier this month when he said Lebanese officials approached the United States with information about what they said was a Syrian hit list of Lebanese political figures targeted for assassination.
He said the Bush administration takes the matter seriously, and said it underscores the need for a clear and universally recognized absence of foreign interference in Lebanon, something Mr. Ereli said we do not have today.
Mr. Ereli joined White House spokesman Scott McClellan in calling for a full investigation of Mr. Hawi's killing. The White House official said the murder was clearly an attempt to intimidate the people of Lebanon and undermine progress toward a free and democratic future for the country.
The Hawi assassination came just a day after returns from voting Sunday in northern Lebanon showed the anti-Syrian opposition winning control of the country's parliament.