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US movements off Lebanese coast a signal to Syria

Latest update : 2008-03-05

The US Navy has replaced the destroyer USS Cole and a refueling ship off Lebanon's coast with two other ships amid a political deadlock there to warn Syria of its commitment to the region.

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Navy has replaced two ships it sent off the coast of Lebanon last week amid political deadlock there to send a signal to Syria, officials said on Tuesday.

The cruiser USS Philippine Sea and the destroyer USS Ross replaced the destroyer USS Cole and a refueling ship over the past day, U.S. Navy officials said.

Another refueling ship remained in place, meaning the United States continued to have three warships in the area, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The ships are not visible from the Lebanese coast but their presence is intended as a signal to Syria and other countries in the Middle East of U.S. commitment to the region, U.S. officials have said.

Washington has blamed Damascus for a 16-month-old power struggle between Lebanon's Western-backed government and the Syrian and Iranian-backed opposition that has left the country without a president since November.

Lebanon's pro-Iranian Hezbollah group accused the United States last week of endangering regional stability by deploying the USS Cole.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, also speaking last week, said his government had not asked Washington to send warships and none of them were in Lebanese territorial waters.

At the time of the USS Cole's deployment, U.S. officials indicated it was likely to be there for a short time before being replaced by other warships.

A senior U.S. defense official said American warships would maintain a presence off the coast until Lebanon's presidential election.

That election was postponed again this week to March 11 from Feb. 26, the 15th delay.

Date created : 2008-03-05