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  Syria says U.S. accusations on Lebanon "vilification"

Reuters | November 2, 2006

A Syrian government newspaper said on Thursday U.S. accusations that Damascus is trying along with Iran and Hezbollah to topple the Lebanese government were "pure vilification".

The White House said on Wednesday Washington had evidence that Syria, Iran and their allies in the Shi'ite Muslim group were preparing to topple the Beirut government, which is dominated by U.S.-backed politicians.

"This pure vilification is meant to raise turmoil in Lebanon and cause fallout with Syria, which paid with blood to maintain Lebanese independence and sovereignty," an editorial in Syria's Baath daily said.

The newspaper said the U.S. government "which claims to know everything" should make public any evidence of the alleged Syrian role.

U.S. officials say the information is classified.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has given Prime Minister Fouad Siniora until the middle of this month to agree on the formation of a unity government or face protests demanding a new election.

A State Department spokesman said Nasrallah's ultimatum has raised U.S. concerns about the intentions of Hezbollah and other players toward Lebanon.

Anti-Syrian politicians had dismissed calls for a national unity government, saying such demands were aimed at regaining Syria's influence in Lebanon.

Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said Washington's strong support of Siniora's government could prove its undoing.

"Some love is fatal," Berri said in a statement. "Is it (the U.S. statement) meant to defend Lebanon or push it toward constructive chaos? Does it echo concern for the government or incitement against it?"

Berri, a Shi'ite Muslim leader allied to Hezbollah, has called for roundtable talks between various Lebanese leaders next week to discuss formation of a new government.

"Anyway, we reassure the White House that the Lebanese people have enough of a democratic tendency to make them resort to dialogue and consultations rather than to the advice of the protector of Israel which violates international resolutions every day and whose planes never depart our airspace," he said.

Syrian forces pulled out of Lebanon after a 29-year presence following last year's assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

A U.N. investigation implicated Syrian security officials in the killing. Damascus, which denies involvement, has deepened its ties with Tehran after facing increasing isolation by the West following the assassination.

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