02/17/2005, 00.00
LEBANON - USA - SYRIA

After Hariri's death, US official invites Patriarch Sfeir to the US

US Assistant Secretary meets Maronite Patriarch and reiterates threat of sanctions against Syria if Damascus does not respect UN resolution.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns met yesterday evening Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir in the wake of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's assassination. The meeting took place in the Patriarch's residence in Bkerke and lasted 45 minutes.

Sources close to the Patriarch told AsiaNews that His Beatitude might travel to the United States to meet high level US government officials.

Rafik Hariri died in a bomb attack on Monday that also killed another 15 people, including former Trade Minister Basel Flaihan, an Anglican deputy in Lebanon's parliament.

After the meeting, Mr Burns reiterated US support for the immediate application of UN resolution 1559, which calls for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon. Mr Burns said that the US might impose new sanctions on Syria if Damascus did not respect the UN resolution.

He said that he and Patriarch Sfeir discussed the need "to shed light on who was responsible" for the former Prime Minister's assassination.

Yesterday morning an estimated 800,000 people took part in Mr Hariri's funeral. Members of Lebanon's current government were absent.

Arab League General Secretary Amro Moussa, Syria's Vice President Abdulhalim Khaddam, representatives from the UN, Arab countries and Europe attended the ceremony.

French President Jacques Chirac spent six hours at the Hariri residence with Mr Hariri's widow, Bernadette. He later visited the tomb of "his great friend" in downtown Beirut, but did not meet any official from the Lebanese government.

France backs the UN resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Interior Minister Sleiman Franjiyeh led a delegation of northern Lebanese deputies to Kraitem, Hariri's residence. He conveyed his personal condolences to the family and expressed the "firm intention" of the Lebanese government to uncover the facts and bring to justice the culprits in Hariri's murder.

He emphasised how the death of the former Prime Minister has led to the loss of esteem and support for the government in the Sunni community.

Mr Franjiyeh said he had confidence in Lebanon's judiciary to unravel the case. The investigating Military Tribunal is seeking the help of Swiss experts. (YH)

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