Washington: Hezbollah denounced the deployment of US warships off the coast of Lebanon on Friday, calling it a threat to Lebanese sovereignty and independence, but the group said it would not be intimidated by the move.
The condemnation came as pro-government dailies saw sending the vessel as a clear signal to Syria, which is being blamed by the ruling majority for blocking a presidential vote in Beirut.
"This decision proves that it's the United States which is interfering in Lebanese afairs, and that this interference has taken on a military slant," Hezbollah MP Hussain Haj Hassan said.
The US military said on Thursday the Navy was sending at least three ships to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in a show of strength during a period of tensions with Syria and political uncertainty in Lebanon.
Officials said the Bush administration was concerned about political deadlock in Lebanon, which Washington blames on Syrian meddling, and the move underlined that worry.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said "The presence is important. It isn't meant to send any stronger signals than that but in fact it does signal that we're engaged, we're going to be in the vicinity."
He said the decision was not aimed only at Syria but at the region as whole, telling reporters at the Pentagon, "That's a very, very important part of the world and stability there as well as in the broader Middle East is an important outcome for us."
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora stressed during a meeting with Arab ambassadors that Beirut did not ask for the warship and summoned a top US diplomat for "clarifications".
"We did not ask anyone to send warships," Siniora said, adding that no US warship was in "Lebanese waters."
Earlier, he summoned US charge d'affaires Michele Sison "to ask her to clarify the presence of the USS Cole" in the Med-iterranean, a government source said.
"Sison assured him that the warship was in international waters and had been dispatched to guarantee regional stability," the source added.
The United States, meanwhile, shrugged off Hezbollah's criticism.
"On Hezbollah's concerns, I would express some of our own concerns with Hezbollah's actions. So I'll just leave it at that," White House national security spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters. Johndroe sidestepped questions about the comments from Siniora.