by Wei Jianhua
JERUSALEM, Feb. 15 (Xinhuanet) -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz on Tuesday blamed Damascus for being behind the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, saying a pro-Syrianterror organization conducted the attack.
The attack was launched by "a pro-Syrian terror organization, which, from what we know, is apparently supported by Syria," Mofaz said after a briefing with the Israeli Defense Forces' Northern Command at an army base near the Lebanon border.
"The attack was intentional," Mofaz reportedly said in a closed meeting with soldiers.
"The organization wanted to strike him because he opposed the Syrian presence in Lebanon. Syria is using terror not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq against coalition forces," he said.
Mofaz also took the opportunity to blast Syria as a country that supported terror and strongly backed Hezbullah.
Asked if the assassination could ignite tension along the northern border, Mofaz said, "We will have to wait and learn more on this incident. The Europeans' harsh condemnation of the attack teaches us that the pressure against Syria is only increasing."
The Lebanese army declared a state of emergency following attempts by Hariri's supporters to attack Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karameh's house on Tuesday.
In response to Monday's assassination of Hariri, Syria's Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, said, "The assassination is an atrocity aimed at destroying Lebanese national unity and might reverberate negatively throughout the Middle East,"the Jerusalem Post reported.
Interviewed by CNN, Moustapha said Syria condemned the killing, adding Syria disagreed with anyone who would say that Hariri was an opponent of Syria.
In the past three weeks, Syria was reaching out to the opposition in Lebanon and Hariri was "asking them to calm down and stop the rhetoric," the ambassador said.
Moustapha said Syria had never heard of Support and Jihad in Lebanon and Syria, the group that claimed responsibility for the attack in a video aired by al-Jazeera TV channel.
"What is needed in Lebanon now is reconciliation and national unity. This is a dangerous threat (to that)," the Syrian ambassador said.
Lebanon was in mourning Tuesday, with schools, banks and shops closed, and troops at intersections to prevent violence, following the assassination of Hariri, whose death raised fears that Lebanon might revert to the political violence of its 1975-90 civil war.
Police raised the death toll from Monday's massive bombing in downtown Beirut to 13, while about 120 were wounded.
At the site of the bombing, troops clamped a cordon around the area. Explosives 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 the blast was caused by a car bomb.
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 about 660 pounds (300 kg) of TNT.
Former Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade Basil Fuleihan, a member of parliament in Hariri's bloc, was among those severely wounded. He was flown to France on Monday for treatment.
Condemnation came from around the Arab world and beyond.
Lebanon's opposition accused Syria, the main power broker in this country, and its allied Lebanese government of being behind the assassination and demanded the Syrian army withdraw from Lebanon.
In Damascus, Syrian officials strongly condemned the killing and dismissed the claims.
Syria keeps 15,000 troops in Lebanon and influences virtually all key political decisions.
French President Jacques Chirac, a friend of Hariri, demanded an international investigation, saying Hariri represented "the indefatigable will of independence, freedom and democracy" for Lebanon.
The Support and Jihad in Syria and Lebanon, a previously unknown group, claimed that it carried out the bombing, saying it was a suicide operation. Enditem