TEHRAN, Feb 14: Iran on Monday pointed the finger at Israel over the killing of Lebanon's former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

"An organized terrorist structure such as the Zionist regime has the capacity for such an operation whose aim is to undermine the unity of Lebanon," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi was quoted as saying by the official IRNA news agency.

Iran "vigorously condemns the terrorist action... which cost the life of Rafik Hariri", he said, calling on the Lebanese to be vigilant "to prevent the Zionist regime from carrying out its sinister and expansionist projects in the region".

Lebanon and Syria are both allies of Iran, and all are under pressure from the United States. Tehran praises Lebanese resistance against Israel and supports the Hezbollah movement, but denies charges that it arms or finances the group's opposition to the Jewish state.

ISRAEL BLAMES SYRIA: Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom accused Syria of being involved in the assassination. "I cannot say for certain that Syria is behind this attack but there are many groups which could have carried it out," Mr Shalom said in a reference to hard line groups supported by Damascus.

"There is no doubt that Syria, which supports Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups that are opposed to the democratization of the Middle East, is uncomfortable with the prospect of elections in Lebanon and the last thing they want is to be forced to leave Lebanon," Mr Shalom said in an interview with Israeli radio from France.

During talks before news of the blast emerged, Mr Shalom tried to convince French President Jacques Chirac to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization and push for its blacklisting by the European Union. -AFP

Chirac calls for investigation

PARIS: French President Jacques Chirac on Monday called for an international inquiry into the car bomb attack that killed Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri.

"(France) calls for an international inquiry to be held without delay to determine the circumstances of, and responsibility for, this tragedy, before punishing the culprits," Mr Chirac's office said in a statement.

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