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(photo credit: AP)
The United States increased pressure on Syria on Friday by barring US entry to people who are undermining the stability of Lebanon and its fragile Western-backed government.
"This is a tool the United States has to demonstrate to Syria our desire for them to stop meddling in Lebanon - to demonstrate to Syria and those who want to destabilize the democratically elected government in Lebanon that we will continue to increase pressure until they suspend their activities," said National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
President George W. Bush signed a proclamation suspending entry into the United States by people who have harmed Lebanon's sovereignty or its democratic institutions, or who have worked to destabilize Lebanon through terrorism, politically motivated violence, intimidation or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon. He signed the order in Kennebunkport, Maine, where he is meeting Sunday and Monday with the president of Russia.
The order does not list certain individuals subject to the ban, but the White House released information that named 10 individuals who are suspected of being engaged in the type of activities the US seeks to end.
They include top Syrian military intelligence officials; an adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad; former Lebanese ministers of defense, labor, environment and information; and a former Lebanese member of parliament.
Syria held political and military sway in tiny neighboring Lebanon for some three decades. Besides armed troops on Beirut streets, Syrian intelligence forces were often a shadowy but pervasive force in Lebanese daily life.
Parliament is not functioning and the government just barely, after a quarter of Cabinet members resigned. Opposition supporters have been holding a sit-in since Dec. 1, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Faud Saniora and the formation of a new government. Saniora, who is backed by the anti-Syrian parliamentary majority, has refused to step down.
The June 13 car bomb assassination of lawmaker Walid Eido's was a blow to the stability of the small Mediterranean nation, which has been mired in a political power struggle between the Western-backed government and the Hizbullah-led opposition, supported by Syria.
Eido was a close friend of Hariri, who was killed in massive bombing in Beirut in February 2005 along with 22 others. Eido also was a political ally of Hariri's son, Saad, who now leads the anti-Syrian majority in the Lebanese parliament. Five other anti-Syrian figures also have been assassinated the past two years.
Many in Lebanon blame Syria for the killings, but Syria denies any involvement.
The list provided by the White House were the following individuals who could be subject to the ban, but those who could be subject to the ban were not limited to this list:
-Hisham Ikhtiyar, adviser to Syrian President Bashar Assad
-Jama'a Jama'a, top Syrian military intelligence official
-Assaf Shawkat, director of Syrian military intelligence and Assad's brother-in-law.
-Rustum Ghazali, top Syrian military intelligence official
-Abdulrahim Mrad, former Lebanese minister of defense
-Assad Hardan, former Lebanese minister of labor
-Assam Qanso, former Lebanese minister of labor
-Michel Samaha, former Lebanese minister of information
-Nasser Qandil, former Lebanese member of parliament
-Wi'am Wahhab, former Lebanese minister of environment
A year ago, the Treasury Department froze the assets of Ikhtiyar and Jama'a, alleging they had played key roles in support of terrorist organizations.
At the time, the Treasury alleged that Ikhtiyar had contributed to the Syrian government's support for designated terrorist organizations, including Hizbullah. Treasury said that Ikhtiyar had supported Syria's military and security presence in Lebanon from 2001 to 2005 when he headed the General Intelligence Directorate, the government's central intelligence service.
Treasury said that Jama'a contributed to the Syrian government's military presence in Lebanon while serving as commander of the Syrian Military Intelligence.