'Syria arming Palestinian camps'

Lebanese PM tells reporters in France he wants UN force's mandate renewed.

Lebanon brilliant 298.88 (photo credit: AP)
Lebanon brilliant 298.88
(photo credit: AP)
Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said Wednesday that Syria was sending weapons to Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon and vowed to bring up the issue before the Arab League. "In recent weeks, ammunition, weapons and fighters have been brought to the camps," Saniora told reporters on a visit to France. Saniora added that he had asked the United Nations to renew the mandate of international peacekeepers in his country, despite an attack last weekend that killed six members of the force. "I am in no position to tell now" who was behind the Sunday car bombing in southern Lebanon that killed three Spaniards and three Colombians, Saniora told a news conference, adding that the investigation was continuing. "I think the whole world is looking at this seriously. This is an affront against the international community, against security and stability in Lebanon," he said. Saniora said he was talking to every member country of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, and was hearing an "unequivocal commitment." He said he has asked UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to renew the UNIFIL mandate, which expires at the end of August. The 13,000-member force from 30 countries, deployed nearly a year ago, is to implement a UN Security Council resolution that ended the 34-day war last summer between Israel and the Syrian and Iranian-backed Hizbullah. UNIFIL's job also includes creating an area free of weapons in southern Lebanon and bringing peace to the Lebanon-Israel border. The visiting Lebanese prime minister was meeting Wednesday with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner. He met Tuesday with President Nicolas Sarkozy and with visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. France is trying to organize a conference on the Lebanese conflict bringing together representatives of various parties involved, and Saniora said he supported it. However, he held out scant hope that such an initiative could bring peace, saying that the "first goal" of such a conference was, above all, "to break the ice." Lebanon is facing its most serious political crisis since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. Saniora's Western-backed government and the Hizbullah-led opposition are locked in a fierce power struggle. Rival Lebanese politicians have not met since a national dialogue conference ended last year without agreement. Paris has had some difficulties in arranging the conference. An initial end-of-June date was extended to mid-July, but neither the French Foreign Ministry nor the Lebanese prime minister has been able to pinpoint a date. Saniora said that a proposal for a meeting by the Arab League has hampered putting together a Paris conference. The French proposal came first, the prime minister said, and "the climate is favorable to moving forward with the French proposal." Dialogue is the only way to resolve Lebanon's problems, Saniora said. "We want Lebanon to be a nation, not a battlefield."