Iran TerrorismLebanon: US accuses Iran and Syria

Lebanon: US accuses Iran and Syria

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ImagePress Association: The Bush administration has accused Iran and Syria of fuelling violence in Lebanon by inciting members of the radical Shiite Hezbollah movement to take up arms against the country's western-backed government.

The Press Association

ImageThe Bush administration has accused Iran and Syria of fuelling violence in Lebanon by inciting members of the radical Shiite Hezbollah movement to take up arms against the country's western-backed government.

As Hezbollah militants seized control of large parts of Beirut, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denounced the show of force, which she said was being supported by Iranian and Syrian elements, and reaffirmed the firm support of the US for Prime Minister Fuad Saniora's shaky coalition.

"Backed by Syria and Iran, Hezbollah and its allies are killing and injuring innocent citizens and undermining the legitimate authority of the Lebanese government and the institutions of the Lebanese state," she said.

"Seeking to protect their state within a state, Hezbollah has exploited its allies and demonstrated its contempt for its fellow Lebanese."

"We will stand by the Lebanese government and the peaceful citizens of Lebanon through the crisis and provide the support they need to weather this storm," Ms Rice said in a statement released after she spoke to UN chief Ban Ki-moon and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia and France about the situation. Ms Rice was also trying to reach Mr Saniora.

Ms Rice's statement was read to reporters by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who said the US had evidence that Iran and Syria, in particular, were beginning to take an active role in encouraging the violence that has killed at least 14 people and wounded 20 since it began on Wednesday.

"It is becoming more apparent now that the linkages that we know exist and are ongoing between Hezbollah and Syria and Iran are starting to manifest themselves in the current crisis," he said. "At the beginning we didn't see it, but we are now."

Specifically, Mr McCormack said US officials were seeing "groups and individuals that are known associates and proxies of Syria … starting to engage. Groups that are linked to Syria and that are in Lebanon right now are taking a much more active roll in fanning the flames and violence and attacks that are destabilising the political situation".

He would not specify which "groups and individuals" were involved, nor would he say if the US had similar evidence of involvement by specific Iranian elements beyond Tehran's general support for Hezbollah.

The US has grown increasingly concerned about the violence – Lebanon's worst sectarian fighting since the 1975-1990 civil war – as it has unfolded and Hezbollah has taken control of key parts of Beirut from Sunnis loyal to the Saniora government, which has been wracked by a long-running political deadlock.

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