ALEY, Lebanon -- The third round of Lebanese parliamentary elections today will decide nearly half the legislative seats and could well set the country's political direction as Syria continues to cast a shadow over its small neighbor.
Anti-Syrian Lebanese say they fear more political assassinations and have accused Syrian intelligence agents of remaining in the country despite the withdrawal of Syrian troops six weeks ago after international pressure and mass public protests -- a claim backed by the United States.
The opposition, which blames Syria and its Lebanese allies in government for the murders of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and the anti-Syrian journalist Samir Kassir, fears more violence as Damascus tries to maintain some influence.
''Probably there is a decision -- with the knowledge or without the knowledge of [Syrian] President [Bashar] Assad -- to continue the assassinations," Druse leader Walid Jumblatt said last week on Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation television.
Those concerns have been echoed by the United Nations and the United States, which said Friday that Syria had not fully withdrawn its intelligence operatives from Lebanon and was perhaps organizing political assassinations.
''There are reports that we have been hearing about for some time about Syrian hit lists, targeting key Lebanese public figures of various political and religious persuasion, for assassination," White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. President Bush said the reports were ''troubling."
Damascus has strongly denied the allegations.
Seats in the first two rounds of voting, in Beirut and the south, for the most part were split evenly between opponents of Syria and supporters of the pro-Syrian militant group Hezbollah.
Anti-Syrian forces need a strong showing in today's vote in the central and eastern regions -- together accounting for nearly half the 128 seats in Parliament -- to win a firm grasp on Parliament and wean it of Damascus's control. But the campaign has led to some surprising alliances and left some races too close to call.
The vote in central Mount Lebanon, the nation's most populous region, has been billed as the ''mother of all battles" as it pits Jumblatt's allies against those supporting former army commander Michel Aoun, who returned home last month after 14 years in exile.
Aoun was one of Syria's main Lebanese foes but recently forged alliances with pro-Syrian politicians.