Lebanon says it will avert confrontation with armed Palestinians

Pro-Syrian gunmen involved in three-day standoff along mountainous Lebanese-Syrian border.

Lebanese authorities said Friday they will avert a military confrontation with pro-Syrian Palestinian gunmen involved in a three-day standoff along the mountainous Lebanese-Syrian border. "The army's weapons will not be used in the interior against anyone," Defense Minister Elias Murr told reporters. "It is to protect the country and to fight troublemakers and those who try to undermine the country's security." Murr spoke after a meeting of top military and security officials chaired by Prime Minister Fuad Saniora. The talks were aimed at finding a solution to the Lebanese military's standoff with Palestinian militants, which began Wednesday. Hundreds of Lebanese troops took up positions around two Palestinian militant bases after Tuesday's killing of a Lebanese contractor near the Syrian border. Soldiers have also being trying to prevent militants and smugglers entering Lebanon. Lebanese troops reinforced positions around the base of the pro-Syrian Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Sultan Yacoub, a village about 5 kilometers (3 miles) from the border, villagers said Friday. The army also erected a new checkpoint about 500 meters (yards) from the PFLP-GC base, searching cars and pedestrians for weapons. A security official in Sultan Yacoub, speaking on condition of anonymity as he was not permitted to speak to the press, said the Lebanese army let the village mayor send food and bread to the militant base. In nearby Helweh where the contractor was killed, several hundred troops tightened control over roads leading to the base of the Fatah Uprising group to stop militants or weapons entering, villagers said. Lebanese authorities blame militants from the group for the killing, but the group denies the claim. Both Palestinian groups, which have long been based in Lebanon and supported by Syria, warned Lebanon about escalating tensions. The tense standoff demonstrates Lebanon's desire to take the lead in disarming Palestinian militant groups operating outside 12 refugee camps dotted around this country. But its tougher line with Palestinian militants has increased regional anxieties, particularly as Syria is under pressure to cooperate further with a UN probe into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanese authorities are trying to regulate weapons in such camps, where Lebanon has no jurisdiction. But the process is expected to take place through dialogue and not force. The UN envoy to Lebanon and Syria, Terje Roed-Larsen, said in a report to the Security Council this week that Lebanon has made no significant progress in disbanding militias in line with last year's UN resolution, partly because more weapons are coming into their possession from Syria.