Lebanon's government has dismissed American and European Union calls for Syrian troops to leave the country immediately in the latest escalation of tension between the two sides. The move comes as U.S. President George W. Bush and European Union leaders intensified pressure on Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon in the wake of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
On his part, Lebanon's Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud said the transatlantic call for an immediate Syrian withdrawal was "nothing new". He also dismissed EU demands for an international probe into Hariri's killing, insisting Lebanon's judicial authorities "were leading" the investigation into the assassination and would continue to do so.
Speaking Tuesday, French President Jacques Chirac warned the UN Security Council will slap sanctions on Syria if it failed to withdraw its 15,000 troops from Lebanon immediately, a view reiterated during Tuesday's joint U.S.-E.U.- NATO Summits in Brussels.
Chirac, a close friend to the late premier, spoke against what he called "Syrian spies" who he said were controlling Lebanon and called on Damascus to withdraw them along with its 15,000 troops present in the country.