–US Recalls Ambassador from Syria
BEIRUT (MSNBC)–The United States recalled its ambassador to Syria on Tuesday–expressing "profound outrage" amid growing suspicion that Damascus was involved in a massive bombing in Lebanon a day earlier that killed Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Condemnation and expressions of grief echoed throughout the Arab world and beyond–while in southern Lebanon an angry mob attacked Syrian workers.
The bombing and its aftermath raised fears that Lebanon might revert to the political violence of the 1970s and ’80s–and the US Embassy in Beirut warned Americans in the Lebanese capital to exercise extreme caution.
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Herve Ladsous said the UN Security Council was working on a declaration demanding that the Lebanese government bring to justice those responsible for the assassination and could adopt it later Tuesday.
"For us–it is very important that the text can effectively express today and without waiting the unanimity of the international community in condemning this criminal and odious act," Ladsous said.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief–Javier Solana–told The Associated Press on Tuesday he saw no immediate need to change EU relations with Syria–but supported an international investigation into the bombing. EU relations–he added–could change depending "on how the responsibilities on the assassination of Mr. Hariri are resolved."
Interior Minister Suleiman Franjieh suggested that–based on the crater in the middle of the road and preliminary reports–the attack may have been carried out by a suicide bomber who rammed Hariri’s motorcade with a vehicle laden with explosives.
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher–announcing the move to withdraw American ambassador to Damascus Margaret Scobey–said it reflected the Bush administration’s "profound outrage" over Hariri’s assassination.
Boucher did not accuse Syria of being involved in the bombing Monday in Beirut. "I have been careful to say we do not know who committed the murder at this time," he said.
But he said the deadly attack illustrated that Syria’s strong military and political presence in Lebanon was a problem and had not provided security in the neighboring country.
Earlier–Scobey delivered a stern message to Syrian officials–a senior State Department official told NBC News–saying the Syrians needed to take action to fight terrorism in Lebanon–stop interfering in Lebanon’s internal politics–and abide by a UN resolution that calls for Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon.
Boucher refused to describe Syria’s reaction to Scobey’s diplomatic messages in Damascus. Syria has not yet taken any reciprocal action–such as withdrawing its own ambassador to Washington.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States has "made it clear to Syria that we expect Syria to act in accordance with the United Nations Security Council resolution calling for the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the disbanding of militias."
McClellan said–"We also made it clear to Syria that we want them to use their influence to prevent the kind of terrorist attack that took place yesterday from happening."
Although most suspicion has fallen on Syria or its supporters in Lebanon–it was clear the possibilities also might include rogue Syrian intelligence operatives–or even factions among the country’s myriad religious groups. Claims of responsibility by Islamic militants also raised the possibility that Hariri had been targeted because of his close ties to Saudi Arabia–a top enemy of al-Qaida and other groups.
But Justice Minister Adnan Addoum played down that possibility–and Hariri’s political allies openly accused Syria and its Lebanese allies of being to blame.
In Hariri’s hometown of Sidon on southern Lebanon’s Mediterranean coast–dozens of demonstrators attacked Syrian workers Tuesday–slightly wounding five before police intervened. Hundreds of others marched in the streets. Black banners and pictures of the slain leader covered the streets as the country began three days of official mourning.
On Monday night–a mob attacked the offices of the Lebanese chapter of Syria’s ruling Baath Party in Beirut with stones and set fire to shacks used to exchange money and sell cigarettes in front of it.
Police said the toll from the bombing was 14 dead and about 120 injured. A claim of responsibility by a previously unknown Islamic militant group–Support and Jihad in Syria and Lebanon–was not considered credible–with Addoum warning it could be an attempt "to mislead the investigation."
At Hariri’s Beirut residence Tuesday–long lines of mourners offered condolences to the family. Dignitaries also arrived to pay their respects–including Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam–a longtime friend; Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos; and Hariri’s political ally–Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir–head of the Maronite Catholic Church.