UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Syria on Tuesday for tough talks with its president on two Lebanese issues - support for an international court to try the killers of Rafik Hariri and preventing arms smuggling to Hizbullah. Syria, a major patron of Hizbullah, has up to now stood its ground on these points, but the government has pledged to cooperate with Ban Ki-moon, who began talks with President Bashar al-Assad shortly after his arrival. The state newspaper Tishrin said in an editorial Tuesday that Ban would find "a lot of common ground that can be built on." Ban has warned that the smuggling of weapons across the Syrian-Lebanese border threatens the August 14 cease-fire that halted the fighting between Israel and Hizbullah.
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The UN Security Council has authorized a UN mission to monitor the Syrian-Lebanese border to stop the smuggling. But Syria has threatened to close its border with Lebanon, effectively choking the country economically, if such a mission is deployed.
The UNSC has also approved an international tribunal for the killers of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister who died in a truck bombing in 2005. But this too has not been implemented because Hizbullah and its opposition allies have boycotted the parliamentary vote that is required to ratify the UN-designed tribunal.
Syria says it has nothing to do with the tribunal, but it has considerable influence with Hizbullah. The party demands that the tribunal's terms of reference be limited. It is believed to fear that the tribunal might delve into the past activities of Hizbullah.
The Tishrin newspaper quietly warned Ban that there were red lines which the United Nations should not cross. The editorial cited an article in the UN Charter that states "no mandate can be applied on regions which have become members of the United Nations. Relations between member states must be based on the principle of equality in sovereignty."
The smuggling of weapons into Lebanon has become murky since the cease-fire. Before then, the Lebanese government repeatedly accused Syria of allowing arms to be smuggled to Hizbullah and Palestinian terror groups. But Prime Minister Fuad Saniora has said "not one single case" of smuggling has been recorded since the ceasefire.
However, Hizbullah has boasted that it has replenished the rockets consumed during the war with Israel. It has not revealed how it received the new missiles.