Bush warns against Syrian interference in Lebanon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President George W. Bush on Thursday condemned the assassination of a Lebanese general and warned Syria against interfering in Lebanon.

Brig. Gen. Francois al-Hajj, who was poised to become Lebanon’s army chief, was killed by a car bomb on Wednesday. He was a leading contender to replace army chief Gen. Michel Suleiman, who is set to become president next week if an election goes ahead as scheduled.

Hajj was the ninth fatality in a string of assassinations that began with the 2005 killing of ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri. He was the first military officer to be killed, while the other attacks targeted anti-Syrian figures.

“Like the many victims before him, General al-Hajj was a supporter of Lebanon’s independence and an opponent of Syria’s interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs,” Bush said.

“I call on the international community to support the government of Lebanon in its efforts to bring to justice the perpetrators of these vicious attacks,” he said in a statement.

Bush said the United States supports the Lebanese government’s efforts to maintain stability before the presidential elections.

“As Lebanon seeks to select a president democratically and in accordance with its constitution, interference by the Syrian regime and its allies, aimed at intimidating the Lebanese people, must end,” he said.

Syria denies accusations by its Lebanese opponents that it was behind the assassinations that are now under U.N. investigation.

Bush stressed the importance of ensuring that a tribunal established by the U.N. Security Council earlier this year was fully funded and able to start operations “as soon as possible.”

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