Syria still meddling in Lebanon after pullout-US

Source: Reuters
By Ibon Villelabeitia

DEAD SEA, Jordan, May 20 (Reuters) – The United States said on Friday Syria was still meddling in Lebanon despite pulling out its troops last month, and accused Iran of funnelling “millions of dollars per month” to Hizbollah guerrillas.

“We still remain deeply concerned about the level of interference and continued manipulation (by Syria) on the part of the security and intelligence services within Lebanon,” said Scott Carpenter, deputy assistant secretary of state.

“We will continue, as the international community, to put pressure to make sure those connections are also withdrawn or suspended,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter, speaking during a World Economic Forum regional meeting in Jordan, made his remarks as Lebanon prepares to hold parliamentary elections starting on May 29, the first in 33 years without Syrian troops present in the country.

Under huge world and Lebanese popular pressure following the February killing of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, Syria last month pulled its troops from Lebanon, which it entered in the early days of the 1975-1990 civil war.

Carpenter told a panel discussion on Lebanon that Washington was monitoring Syrian troop movements to make sure they don’t return.

“We as the international community have to ensure that the Syrian withdrawal is not a temporary pause or hiatus,” he said.

“We need to make sure that the temptation to re-enter through the back door, the side door, the basement, the roof, the window left open are kept at bay.”


Carpenter also reiterated calls for Hizbollah to disarm, as stipulated under U.N. Security Council resolution 1559.

The resolution, sponsored by the United States and France, called last September for the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and “for the disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia”.

Hizbollah, backed by Syria and Iran, is the only Lebanese group to openly keep its arms after the end of the civil war.

The group, branded a “terrorist” organisation by Washington, played a central role in fighting the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, which ended in 2000.

“Resolution 1559 states very clearly that groups within Lebanon have to be disarmed … The international community through the Security Council resolution has been very clear and Hizbollah must disarm,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter, who said the forthcoming elections will help Lebanon become a “normal country”, also had harsh words for Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of funnelling “millions of dollars per month” into Hizbollah.

“We will continue to put a good deal of pressure on both Syria and Iran to stop funding and providing support for Hizbollah,” he said.

Hizbollah has broad popular support among Lebanon’s large Shi’ite community. It has several elected members of parliament and runs welfare services as well as an armed militia.

Israel accuses it of training individuals and launching Palestinian suicide attacks in the West Bank and Gaza.