BEIRUT (AFP) – Syrian intelligence agents remain in Lebanon despite assurances they have left, and more political murders can be expected, a key opposition figure said in a claim echoed by Washington.

“I believe the entire opposition is being targeted,” said Druze leader Walid Jumblatt in a television interview late Thursday night, repeating an accusation he has often made since the murder in February of former premier Rafiq Hariri.

“The assassinations will continue with or without the knowledge of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad,” he charged.

Jumblatt was speaking only a week after the latest political killing — the death of prominent anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir.

Lebanon’s pro-Syrian regime and its political masters in Damascus have denied widespread allegations that they were behind the two killings, as well as a series of bombings since Hariri’s death that have killed three others.

But Washington voiced concern over what it said was a continued Syrian intelligence presence in Lebanon, charging that it was creating a climate of fear in the midst of parliamentary elections.

“We are deeply concerned about Syria’s interference and intimidation inside Lebanon,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters.

“Syria needs to comply fully with United Nations (Security) Council Resolution 1559 — that means getting all their intelligence operatives out of Lebanon,” McClellan said, referring to a US- and French-sponored text adopted last September.

The new accusations against Syria came as Lebanon prepares to hold the third phase of four-stage parliamentary elections on Sunday, this time in the overwhelmingly Christian region of Mount Lebanon.

In his remarks, Jumblatt accused the former Syrian military intelligence chief in Lebanon, General Rustom Ghazaleh, of meddling in the election through his agents.

“Rustom Ghazaleh, whom the Syrian leadership should have thrown in jail, has blocked an electoral alliance between (Christian) MP Elie Skaff and the Hariri group,” he said, referring to the opposition coalition led by the slain former premier’s son, Saad.

Contacted by AFP, Skaff denied he had met Ghazaleh since Syria’s troop withdrawal from Lebanon in late April.

But several people told AFP they had seen Syrian officers in the Bekaa Valley and in northern Lebanon.

“These officers, some of whom have obtained Lebanese citizenship, were talking local mayors into voting and pushing the population to vote for candidates close to Damascus,” said one pro-Hariri politician who asked not to be identified.

The White House statement followed a report in Friday’s New York Times in which an unidentified senior US official charged that Syria had a “hit list” of enemies in Lebanon.

The official said the information had come from “a variety of Lebanese sources” and that “we assess it as credible.”

He said governments in the Middle East and Europe had been warned about the threat facing Lebanese figures, adding: “we thought it would be useful to make this public as a deterrent to the Syrians.”

UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan raised the possibility Thursday that Syrian intelligence may not have completely withdrawn from Lebanon as required by Resolution 1559.

“We are now receiving reports that there may be elements that are still there, and we are considering the possible return of the verification team to ascertain what is going on,” he said.

A UN verification mission to Lebanon had reported on May 23 that Syria had “fully” withdrawn troops from its neighbour, in compliance with last year’s resolution.