USS Cole Heads to Lebanon in 'Show of Support'

The USS Cole is in the Mediterranean Sea in support of regional stability leading up to the election in Lebanon, U.S. Defense officials told FOX News on Thursday. An earlier news report said the ship was off the coast of Lebanon.

The USS Cole left Malta on Tuesday for the eastern Mediterranean "in support of a U.S. commitment to regional stability," according to one senior defense official, who also said President Bush is concerned about stability during Lebanon's March 11 election.

Reuters reported a senior official said the United States blames Syria for political deadlock in Lebanon, which has gone without a president for three months over strife between the Western-backed governing coalition and Hezbollah-led opposition, which is backed by Syria and Iran.

The United States, which with Saudi Arabia and Egypt supports the governing coalition, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization.

The USS Cole was to be accompanied directly by two Navy oilers. Three other Navy vessels also were headed to the Mediterranean as part of a regularly scheduled deployment: the USS Ross destroyer, the USS Nassau amphibious assault ship and the USS Philippine Sea cruiser.

Al Qaeda operatives bombed the USS Cole in 2000, killing 17 U.S. sailors and nearly sinking the $1 billion warship in Aden Harbor, Yemen.

This month the United States expanded economic sanctions on Syria, saying it is responsible for destabilizing Lebanon.

FOX News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.