U.S. Recalls Ambassador To Syria

Ambulance personal remove another body found in the debris of the explosion site in Beirut, Lebanon Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2005. Monday's huge blast killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and police said the toll from Monday's bombing in downtown Beirut was 13 dead and about 120 injured.(AP Photo/Hussein Malla) AP

The United States has recalled its ambassador to Syria amid rising tensions over the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon.

President Bush recalled Ambassador Margaret Scobey for "consultations" in the wake of Hariri's assassination, reports CBS News Chief White House Correspondent John Roberts. It's part of the administration's program to express displeasure with Syria and put pressure on Damascus.

Before departing, Scobey delivered a stern note, called a demarche in diplomatic parlance, to the Syrian government, said a U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Bush administration condemned Monday's killing in Beirut of Hariri, the billionaire construction magnate who masterminded the recovery of his country and insisted that Syria comply with a U.N. resolution calling for the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.

Hariri, like most Lebanese politicians, walked a thin line between criticizing Damascus and deferring to the country that plays a dominant role in Lebanon's affairs.

He resigned four months ago in light of tensions with Syria but was weighing a political comeback. A Sunni Muslim, Hariri was on good terms with Lebanese Christians and was especially close to French President Jacques Chirac, who has called for an international investigation into the assassination.

The Bush administration did not directly support Chirac on his call for an international inquiry, but the White House on Monday said those responsible for the bombing of Hariri's motorcade must be punished.

"The United States will consult with other governments in the region and on the Security Council today about measures that can be taken to punish those responsible for this terrorist attack, to end the use of violence and intimidation against the Lebanese people and to restore Lebanon's independence, sovereignty and democracy by freeing it from foreign occupation," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

McClellan said it was not clear who was responsible for the bomb attack and refused to speculate whether Syria or Iran, was behind it.

Lebanon plunged into deep mourning and put its army on alert against violence Tuesday. Schools, banks and shops were closed and the streets of the capital were virtually empty as the country started three days of mourning. Soldiers were deployed at some intersections, the armed forces were put on full alert and troops' leave was canceled.

Police raised the toll from Monday's bombing in downtown Beirut by one to 14 dead and about 120 injured.

TV stations and radios played somber music or readings from the Quran, Islam's holy book, as the country prepared to bury Hariri in a funeral on Wednesday at a downtown Beirut mosque.

At the site of the bombing, troops clamped a cordon around the area. Explosive experts combed rooftops and the street in search of evidence that could reveal what caused the explosion. Security officials have not confirmed initial reports that said the blast was caused by a car bomb.

It was unclear if the assassination would delay parliamentary elections that are expected in April and May. In the morning before his death, Hariri had attended a parliamentary debate on a bill to redefine the electoral districts.

The dead included Hariri and seven of his bodyguards, crushed and burned in their heavily armored cars by the force of the blast, which police estimated at about 660 pounds of TNT.

Former Economy Minister Bassel Fleihan, a member of parliament in Hariri's bloc, was among those severely wounded. He was flown to France on Monday for treatment.

Hariri, 60, resigned as prime minister in October, having led the government for 10 of the 14 years since the end of the civil war.
  • Ayaz Nanji

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