07/25/2005, 00.00
LEBANON
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Sec of State Rice snubs Syria

For the first time, a US official does not visit Beirut and Damascus on the same trip.

Beirut (AsiaNews) – US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's visit to Lebanon Friday marked the first time a US government official did not also go to Syria.

Many Arab papers noted that she came to Beirut from Jerusalem and not from Damascus and that she did not travel to the Syrian capital after leaving that of Lebanon.

Ms Rice spent only seven hours in Lebanon where she expressed US support for the country's first government after the end of Syrian occupation.

Syria was an important partner for Washington till 2003 when Damascus opposed the US invasion of Iraq and its seeming bid to dominate the region.

For this reason, US pressures following the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri played an important role in getting the Syrians to withdraw from Lebanon last April.

During her visit, Ms Rice met Lebanese President Émile Lahoud, parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, General Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri.

Implementing UN Resolution 1559 on Hizbollah disarmament was the main issue on her agenda.

Ms Rice did not meet any Hizbollah representative—the organisation itself appears on the US lists of terrorist organisations.

In Beirut, she called on Syria to pull out her secret agents and stop blocking border posts with Lebanon, where the situation is really serious.

She also said that the Lebanese must be charge of their situation, that the US supports this great opportunity the Lebanese have to build their future. 

"What I am here to do is to support the new Lebanon. And the new Lebanon is one that is democratic. The new Lebanon is one that should be free of foreign influence," Ms Rice said.

Some Beirut newspapers did however criticise her meeting with pro-Syrian Lahoud whose mandate was extended for an additional three years under a Damascus-inspired constitutional amendment last fall.

Right after the Secretary of State left Lebanon, a bomb exploded over night in Beirut's nightlife district, in Monnot Street, injuring 12 people, mostly resident of the old Massabny building.

The 25 kilo explosive device was inside a blue Opel and blew up near St-Joseph University campus.

The same device was used in other attacks in Kaslik, Broumana, New Jdeieh and Sid el-Bouchrieh streets.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora visited the site of the blast.

Around midnight the street was completely deserted and part of the road that leads to the university was sealed off. (YH)

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