Lebanon, Syria begin dismantling sand barriers

Damascus said it built the sand mounds to prevent smuggling, but Lebanon said they were encroaching on its territory.

lebanon syria map 88 (photo credit: )
lebanon syria map 88
(photo credit: )
A joint Syrian-Lebanese team began dismantling sand mounds Monday that Damascus said it built near the border to protect against smuggling, but Lebanon said were encroaching on its territory. Four Lebanese and Syrian army bulldozers began removing the barriers Monday in the Lebanese village of Arsal, near the country's northeastern border with Syria. Officials said work would continue for at least three days. In a bid to improve strained relations, Syria and Lebanon agreed last week to dismantle the two-by-four meter sand berms, which run for hundreds of meters near the border. Syria said it first erected the earth mounds in 1992 to block cross-border smuggling. But Lebanese officials said the barriers, built as far as four kilometers (2.49 miles) inside Lebanon, aimed to encroach on their territory. Lebanese officials also said new mounds were set up in the past few months, after Syria withdrew troops from Lebanon in April 2005. Relations between Syria and Lebanon sharply deteriorated last year after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 20 other people were killed in a massive truck bombing in Beirut. Hariri's assassination triggered a major change in Lebanese politics, which - coupled with international pressure - led to Syria's withdrawal after nearly three decades of military presence in Lebanon. The border between the two neighbors has been ill-defined since they gained independence from France in 1943. Last month, Syrian border police shot and seriously wounded a Lebanese farmer tending his land near the border. A similar shooting in October killed another Lebanese farmer nearby. Monday's operation was overseen by the governor of Lebanon's Bekaa Valley and his Syrian counterpart for the Damascus region