President Bush slammed Syria and reaffirmed his support for a tribunal investigating assassinations in Lebanon.
Bush’s statement Thursday condemning the assassination a day earlier of Brig. Gen. Francois al-Hajj underscored that little has changed in U.S.-Syria relations despite Syria’s presence last month at U.S.-convened Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Bush administration has been skeptical of Israel’s willingness to feel out Syria’s peace overtures, fearing that the Assad regime in Damascus is seeking a pretext to neutralize the U.N. tribunal investigating the killings. The tribunal has targeted Syria’s top political echelons.
Al- Hajj’s killing in a car bomb attack was the 12th assassination since October 2004 of opponents of continued Syrian control in Lebanon.
Bush stressed the “urgency of ensuring that the tribunal is fully funded and capable of commencing its operations as soon as possible, to begin holding accountable those responsible for this systematic campaign of murder against Lebanon’s most ardent patriots.”
He added: “Interference by the Syrian regime and its allies, aimed at intimidating the Lebanese people, must end. The people of Lebanon deserve the opportunity to choose their leaders in freedom and without fear.”