DAMASCUS, Syria, AP -An official Syrian newspaper on Saturday dismissed as "lies" American allegations that Damascus still maintained troops or intelligence officials in Lebanon.
Syria claims all its forces quit Lebanon in April in line with a U.N. resolution after some three decades as the dominant political and military force in its tiny neighbor.
"We dare any country or side to come up with evidence that we still have forces or intelligence (agents) in Lebanon," the Tishrin newspaper said in an editorial. "Is it Syria”s responsibility to maintain security in Lebanon and Iraq?"
U.S. officials said Thursday that Washington was certain that Syrian military intelligence operatives remain in Lebanon in defiance of international demands to withdraw all forces and agents.
Anti-Syrian opposition politicians also have claimed that intelligence agents remain.
Meanwhile, Lebanon”s pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud deflected calls for his resignation Saturday by claiming that Israel and Muslim extremists benefited most from the string of killings of anti-Syrian figures by sowing "chaos and fear in Arab societies."
He made the comments during a meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhoaxing, according to a statement from his office.
Lahoud has been under pressure to step down since the first high-profile assassination of an opponent of Syria — former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — in a bomb blast on Feb. 14. Since then two other vocal critics of Damascus were killed in similar circumstances, by bombs placed under their car seats.
Anti-Syrian forces blamed Damascus and their Lebanese allies for the attacks, allegations both parties have steadfastly denied.
Hariri”s assassination sparked a wave of anti-Syrian demonstrations that propelled Syria into ending its 29-year military presence in Lebanon and fueled the anti-Syrian coalition”s victory in parliamentary elections that were completed on June 19.
A U.N. team is in Lebanon investigating Hariri”s killing.