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US Bars Entry of Syrians, Lebanese, Accused of Destabilizing Beirut Government

The United States Friday banned U.S. travel by Syrian and former Lebanese officials accused of activities undermining the sovereignty of Lebanon and its elected government. The action came in a proclamation by President Bush from Kennebunkport, Maine, where he meets Russian President Vladimir Putin Sunday. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The proclamation by the President did not specify those who would be affected by the travel ban, leaving the determinations to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

However, administration officials gave reporters a list of likely targets of the presidential order, including among others the director of Syrian military intelligence, Asef Shawkat, and Hisham Ikhtiyar, an adviser to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Several former Lebanese cabinet members and a former member of the Lebanese parliament were also cited.

The order would bar admission and void current U.S. entry visas held by people determined to have harmed Lebanese sovereignty and democratic institutions, worked to destabilize Lebanon through terrorism, political violence or intimidation, or who sought to reassert Syrian control over the country.

The action follows recent violence in Lebanon that U.S. officials suspect was Syrian-inspired, including the June 13 assassination of anti-Syrian parliamentarian Walid Eido, and an uprising by Islamic militants in a Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.

Earlier this week, a United Nations assessment team sent the Security Council a report saying that weapons are apparently pouring across the Syrian border into Lebanon, and that Lebanese troops and the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon have been unable to stem the flow.

State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the report is further evidence Syria is unresponsive to demands that it cease interfering in Lebanon, including U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 that ended last year's conflict between Israel and Lebanon's Syrian-backed Hezbollah movement.

"There are a lot of questions surrounding continued Syrian activities in Lebanon, and I think it's safe to say that Syria is not engaged in constructive behavior in Lebanon," he said. "So it's yet another indication that Syria is playing outside the boundaries, once again, that the international system has set. And in this case in contravention of a U.N. Security Council resolution."

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon Friday called on both Syria and Iran to respect the arms embargo contained in Resolution 1701 against armed groups in Lebanon.

Syria has denied involvement in arms trafficking. But in his latest report on implementation of the resolution, the U.N. chief cited what he termed "disturbing information" that several multi-barrel rocket launchers were seen being moved into Lebanon from Syria earlier this month.

The U.N. resolution forbids any weapons shipments into Lebanon that are not authorized by the government of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

The United States has sharply increased military aid to the Siniora government this year, and joined several Arab states in an airlift of ammunition and other supplies to the Lebanese army last month to help it deal with the uprising by the Fatah al-Islam militant group near Tripoli.