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Washington withdraws ambassador from Syria
Implies Syrian role in Beirut bombing Escalates imperialist squeeze on Damascus
 
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 69/No. 8February 28, 2005

 
lead article
Washington withdraws ambassador from Syria
Implies Syrian role in Beirut bombing
Escalates imperialist squeeze on Damascus
 
Getty Images/AFP/Joseph Barrak
Some 200,000 people joined the funeral procession for Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister slain in a bombing February 14. Marchers carried banners demanding Syria pull its troops out of Lebanon. Washington has seized on the assassination to ratchet up the pressure on Damascus to accede to U.S. demands, including withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon.

BY PAUL PEDERSON  
Washington ratcheted up its pressure against the Syrian government following the February 14 bombing assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced the next day that the U.S. ambassador to Syria, Margaret Scobey, would be withdrawn from Damascus, the country’s capital, for “consultations,” while an investigation into the assassination is carried out.

Washington used the occasion to press its demands that the Syrian government withdraw its troops from Lebanon. It also stepped up its allegations that Damascus is allowing the use of its territory by forces backing irregular units in Iraq that have been attacking the U.S.-led occupation troops in that country.

These steps lay the groundwork for intensification of the economic squeeze and military pressure by Washington on Syria if the U.S. government and its allies “prove” any link between Damascus and the bombing in Beirut. The government of Syrian president Bashar Al Assad has adamantly rejected the accusations.

“Following the murder of former Prime Minister Hariri, Ambassador Scobey delivered a message to the Syrian government expressing our deep concern as well as our profound outrage over this heinous act of terrorism,” read the February 15 State Department statement announcing the decision. “Syria maintains a sizeable presence of military and intelligence officials in Lebanon, in contravention of the U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. In recent months we have raised repeatedly with senior officials of the Syrian government a number of issues, including the Syrian presence in Lebanon, the continued presence and operational activities of international terrorist groups and of the Iranian regime on and through Syrian territory, and the use of Syrian territory by the Iraqi insurgency. To date, these concerns have not been adequately addressed.”

The same day, the United Nations Security Council issued a statement condemning the assassination. It reaffirmed the UN body’s call for the “restoration of the territorial integrity, full sovereignty and political independence of Lebanon.” This refers primarily to the more than 14,000 Syrian troops stationed in the country. Last September Hariri, who has campaigned for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, played a role in getting the UN Security Council to pass resolution 1559, which calls for “all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon.”

“Syria has got to get out of Lebanon,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Anne Patterson, told the press.

French president Jacques Chirac, whose government has supported the call for withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, called for an “international investigation” into Hariri’s assassination. A billionaire construction tycoon, Hariri resigned his post as prime minister last year amid opposition to a constitutional amendment that extended the term of Lebanese president Emile Lahoud, a close ally of the Syrian government. Hariri continued to lead an important opposition bloc in Lebanon’s parliament.

More than 200,000 people joined Hariri’s funeral procession February 16. The Washington Post reported that many carried banners expressing opposition to the Syrian military presence with slogans like “Syria Out” and “Hey Syria—Who’s Next?”

Damascus denied any involvement in the sophisticated bombing attack. Syria’s vice president, Abdel-Halim Khaddam, claimed Tel Aviv was responsible, Arab-language television reported, according to the Wall Street Journal. A previously unknown group, calling itself Victory and Jihad, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the target was the Saudi royal family that had close business ties to Hariri.

Washington has stepped up its pressure on Damascus since the U.S.-led takeover of Iraq in 2003. U.S. forces have been stationed along the Syrian border, and U.S. warplanes have pounded the area with up to 1-ton bombs.

In May 2003, immediately after U.S. president George Bush declared the end of combat in Iraq, the Syria Accountability Act was introduced into Congress. The law gives the president authority to slap trade sanctions on Syria, and demands that Damascus “immediately and unconditionally halt support for terrorism, permanently and openly declare its total renunciation of all forms of terrorism, and close all terrorist offices and facilities in Syria, including the offices of Hamas, Hizballah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.” It further demands the Syrian government withdraw its troops from Lebanon, end the production of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, chemical and biological weapons, and enter into “peace” negotiations with the Israeli government.

The measure sailed through both houses of Congress in November 2003 with nearly unanimous bipartisan support. Its main sponsors were Democratic senator Barbara Boxer, a well-known liberal from California, and Republican senator Richard Santorum.

In addition to withdrawing its ambassador to Syria, Washington is discussing using the Syria Accountability Act to take further punitive measures against Damascus, the Wall Street Journal reported. This could include banning all trade waivers that had allowed Damascus to buy a range of U.S. goods despite the sanctions, limiting or ending the issuing of visas to Syrian government officials, and restricting the movements of Syrian diplomats in the United States.
 
 
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