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US Condemns Assassination of Lebanese General

The United States Wednesday joined other countries in condemning the Beirut car bomb assassination of Lebanese Brigadier General Francois al-Hajj, who was set to have become the country's army chief. The assassination, the latest in a series targeting key Lebanese figures, comes amid an ongoing political crisis in the Middle East country. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State.

The United States is condemning the killing of General al-Hajj as another vicious and cowardly attack against Lebanon and its institutions, and it is reiterating that Lebanese should be allowed to determine their political future without foreign interference or influence.

General al-Hajj, a Maronite Christian, had played a key role in the Lebanese army's successful drive against al-Qaida-inspired militants in a Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli earlier this year - a campaign backed up by an airlift of U.S. military aid.

He had also been considered the leading candidate to replace the current Lebanese army chief, General Michel Suleiman, who is expected to be elected president of the country next week after a long political stalemate.

White House National Security Council Spokesman Gordon Johndroe said the United States strongly condemns the assassination of General al-Hajj, which he said came as a crucial time as Lebanon seeks to maintain a democratically-elected government. Johndroe said President Bush will continue to stand with Lebanese people as they counter those who attempt to undermind their security and freedom.

General al-Hajj, who died along with a bodyguard in a bomb blast in a Christian suburb of Beirut, was the ninth fatality in a string of assassinations targeting mainly anti-Syrian Lebanese political figures since 2005.

The United States publicly implicated Syria in past killings but in comments here, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said U.S. officials do not know who might be responsible for Wednesday's bombing. McCormack said it was positive that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem had denounced the attack.

"Of course, any sort of denunciation of violence by governments in the region is positive if continued over time. And if backed up by actions, those denunciations help create a climate whereby violence is not a political tool. So while denunciations are useful, they need to be backed up by actions," he said.

The frosty U.S.-Syrian relationship has warmed at least slightly in recent weeks, with the Damascus government sending a deputy minister to the U.S. organized Annapolis conference on Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.

But McCormack said it is not entirely clear if Syria has committed to turning away from the use of violence as a political tool, and said Damascus certainly continues to support radical groups trying to undermine progress in the regional peace process.

The Lebanon situation is expected to be discussed early next week in Paris, when US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets senior French officials and attends an international donors conference Monday for Palestinian institution-building.

The State Department said Wednesday Rice will also meet in Paris with her colleagues from the international Middle East Quartet - which consists of Russia, the European Union, the United Nations and the United States - as a follow-up to the Annapolis conference.