June 29, 2007 / 5:44 PM / 10 years ago

Bush bans US entry by Syrians with Lebanon links


(Adds details, previous WASHINGTON)

KENNEBUNKPORT, Maine, June 29 (Reuters) - President George W. Bush on Friday banned Syrian and Lebanese officials whom Washington accuses of undermining the Lebanese government from entering the United States, the White House said.

The list of Syrian officials the United States considers to have meddled in Lebanon includes Assef Shawkat, Syria’s director of military intelligence, Hisham Ikhtiyar, adviser to President Bashar al-Assad, and Brig. Gen. Jama‘a Jama‘a.

The U.S. move followed repeated calls for Damascus to stop fomenting instability in Lebanon, where Washington is trying to shore up the elected government of embattled Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

Bush has sought to isolate Syria diplomatically. He accuses Damascus of sponsoring terrorism, not doing enough to prevent foreign fighters from crossing into Iraq and doing little to rein in Hamas and Hezbollah militants opposed to Israel.

Damascus, which withdrew its forces from Lebanon in 2005 after a 29-year military presence, has denied the accusations.

"This is a tool the United States has to demonstrate to Syria our desire for them to stop meddling in Lebanon," White House National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters about the travel ban.

He said the decision had been in the works for a while and was prompted by events such as the assassination this month of Lebanese legislator Walid Eido, a member in the majority anti-Syrian parliamentary bloc.

Others listed as subject to the travel ban included Rustum Ghazali, identified as another top Syrian intelligence official, plus five former Lebanese Cabinet ministers and a former lawmaker.

The United States froze Ikhtiyar and Jama‘a’s U.S. assets last year, saying they had played a key role in what it said was Damascus’s policies to support terrorism and destabilize Lebanon.

The United States backed a recent U.N. Security Council resolution setting up an international tribunal to try suspects in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, who was killed in 2005. Syria has been accused of complicity, a charge it denies.





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