U.S.: Syria partly responsible for Be'er Sheva bombing
The United States turned its attention to Syrian policy over the weekend, with senior administration officials partly blaming Damascus for last week's double suicide bombing in Be'er Sheva, as well as issuing a call for Syria to withdraw its troops from its western neighbor, Lebanon.
In an interview to Egyptian television, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that Syria does bear some responsibility for the Be'er Sheva suicide attacks, in which 16 people were killed. The connection is not unreasonable given Syria's ties with Hamas and Hezbollah, Armitage said.
"Syria holds and houses Hamas. Syria is a conduit of weapons from Iran to Hezbollah. It seems to me that Syria does bear some responsibility," Armitage told the interviewer, according to a U.S. Department of State transcript.
When asked to clarify, Armitage said: "President [Bashar] Assad should take a careful look at what his nation is doing and what his government is doing in supporting territory - in supporting violence in the territories and decide whether this is in the long-term interest of Syria."
Syria's decision to expel Al-Qaida from Damascus does not compensate for a lack of action against other terrorist groups, Armitage said.
"It doesn't work like that. If you oppose terrorism, you oppose all terrorism," he said.
In response to Syrian President Assad's call for negotiations with Israel, Armitage said that even if the United States were to mediate, it could not guarantee results.
"The results have to be determined by the parties on the ground. It's not our business," Armitage said.
The United States has not been asked to sponsor such a negotiation, Armitage said, adding that Israel and Syria are capable of bilateral negotiations.
"President Assad knows very well how to communicate with the Government of Israel, and vice versa, and they're perfectly able to do it," he said.
Out of Lebanon Also Saturday, a senior State Department official said after meeting Assad in Damascus that it is time for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, where its troops have been deployed for almost 20 years.
"Syria must end its interference in Lebanese internal affairs, withdraw its forces from Lebanon and allow the Lebanese armed forces and government to establish their authority throughout Lebanon," William Burns, assistant secretary of state for near eastern affairs, told reporters.
"The time has come for concrete steps ... We stress that what is essential now is genuine progress not rhetoric."
U.S. officials said earlier that Burns would discuss Lebanon and Iraq as well as the importance of border control in his meeting with Bashar. Washington is a regular critic of Syria's policies.
Last week the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution drafted by the United States and France calling on all foreign forces to leave Lebanon, militias to disband and foreign governments to respect Lebanese sovereignty.
Despite the resolution, Lebanon's parliament changed the constitution to allow Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud to stay in office for three more years.
The resolution does not mention Syria by name, but it is seen as an attempt to stop Damascus's tight control of Lebanese politics and get rid of the 17,000 troops Syria keeps in its smaller neighbor.
Lebanon will send a delegation to the Security Council later this month to present Beirut's case. Syria has also rejected the resolution.
Lebanese president Lahoud slams UN Lebanese president Emile Lahoud accused the UN on Friday of playing into Israel's hands with a resolution condemning Damascus's grip on Lebanon and support for its Hezbollah guerrillas.
"Lebanon sees this resolution as interference in its internal affairs," he told British Ambassador to Lebanon James Watt, according to a statement from Lahoud's office.
"It represents a response to long-term Israeli demands that aim to shake the internal stability that Lebanon enjoys because of its choice to embrace the national resistance which liberated most of the south, and through coordination with Syria."
The UN tried to stop the amendment going through by passing a resolution telling foreign troops to pull out of Lebanon, militias to disband, and foreign governments to respect Lebanese sovereignty.
The Security Council's resolution does not mention Syria by name, but is seen as an attempt to stop Damascus' tight control of Lebanese politics and get rid of the 17,000 troops Syria keeps in its smaller neighbor.
Lahoud said while Beirut respected UN decisions aimed at maintaining stability, the recent resolution simply voiced Israel's demands.
Lebanon is sending a delegation to the Security Council later this month to present Beirut's case. Syria has also rejected the resolution, which was drafted by Washington, a regular critic of Damascus.