Photo: AFP
Bashar Assad
Photo: AFP
Assassination of Antoine Ghanem
Photo: AFP
Assad denies his country behind killing of anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians
'Having influence is different from committing crimes in Lebanon,' Syrian president tells BBC

President Bashar Assad rejected accusations that Syria orchestrated the killing of Lebanese politicians opposed to his country and said Tuesday that the assassinations were contrary to the interests of Damascus.


Assad said his country still retains some influence in its Western neighbor but told the British Broadcasting Corp. that Syria had left Lebanon. The killings, he said, were benefiting his country's foes in Lebanon and not Syria.


"Of course, we have influence. This is normal," Assad said. "But having influence is different from committing crimes in Lebanon."


"This is not in our interest," he added. "What did we get from killing those people? That's the question that we have to ask."


Assad said people should ask if Syria benefited from the killings.


"Actually no. The opposite is happening. We are accused and the other side, the people who are described as anti-Syrians, they get the benefit from that, not Syria," Assad said.


'Syria aims to destabilize Lebanon'

Anti-Syrian groups that control the government claim Damascus is behind a two-year killing spree that has left a number of anti-Syrian politicians and public figures dead.


The latest was on Sept. 19 when deputy Antoine Ghanem was killed in a Beirut car bombing a week before Parliament was to meet for the election of a new president.


The same groups also claim Syria aims to destabilize their country following their forced withdrawal in 2005, following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syria, which had troops in Lebanon for 29 years, was accused by many of being responsible for Hariri's death - a claim Syria denies.


Those groups allege Syria wants to bring down US-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government by killing off lawmakers and force an end to his slim Parliamentary majority. They allege Ghanem was killed to prevent the anti-Syrian majority from electing a president.


The Iran and Syria-backed Hizbullah and its allies in the opposition blocked a parliamentary session from electing a president on Sept. 25.


The 128-seat unicameral parliament will try again on Oct. 23 to elect a head of state to replace President Emile Lahoud, who leaves office Nov. 24.


If Parliament fails to elect a president, Lebanon could face a power vacuum and the prospects of two rival governments - the current Siniora administration and another one appointed by Lahoud, who is backed by the opposition.


A division of the administration in the last two years of the 1975-90 civil war led to army units loyal to each side fighting each other.


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