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US Underscores Backing for Beirut Government After Lawmaker's Assassination

The United States is reaffirming support for the Lebanese government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora following Wednesday's car-bomb killing of Siniora parliamentary ally Walid Eido and others. The Bush administration has been airlifting military supplies to help the pro-Western Beirut government confront Islamic militants near Tripoli. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department is condemning the Walid Eido assassination as an act of terrorism, and making clear that it will continue supporting the Siniora government and its efforts to preserve Lebanese democracy.

The killing of Eido, a member of the Prime Minister's pro-democracy Future movement, was the fifth assassination of a prominent anti-Syrian Lebanese political figure over the past two years.

The legislator's death further erodes Mr. Siniora's parliamentary majority in advance of a crucial vote for a new president later this year.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the killing was clearly intended to undermine the resolve of the Lebanese people to build a stable democracy free from outside interference, but he predicted it will have the opposite effect.

"If recent history is any example, this act of terror is only going to serve to strengthen the resolve of those people who are on the frontlines of Lebanese democracy, and we stand with them as they work to advance the cause of Lebanese democracy and the cause of freedom throughout the Middle East," said McCormack. "And we have full confidence that Prime Minister Siniora and his government are going to continue to be strong defenders of Lebanese independence and sovereignty."

Under questioning, McCormack said it was "too early to tell" if Syria is behind the latest killing. But he said the fact that many people immediately blame Damascus when such incidents occur is a reflection of Syria's history of "lack of recognition" of Lebanon's sovereignty.

The Bush administration has stepped up aid to Lebanon since the Syrian troop withdrawal in 2005, and in recent days it has been airlifting ammunition and other supplies to the Lebanese army in its confrontation with the Fatah al-Islam radical group at a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli.

McCormack said he is unaware of additional aid commitments but said if there are further extremist threats to the Beirut government, the United States will attempt to respond as it has in the past.

The United States gave Lebanon about $40 million in military aid last year, mainly for vehicles, training and equipment to help government forces reassert control over Lebanese territory after the Syrian pullout and last year's war between Israel and Hezbollah.

But a supplemental spending bill approved by Congress late last month, mainly for the Iraq and Afghan wars, included more than $700 million in assistance to Lebanon, almost half of it various forms of military aid.