Syrian arms reach factions in Lebanon

Report also highlights that Hizbollah, a member in Lebanon's new government, remains armed.

lebanon in un 88 (photo credit: )
lebanon in un 88
(photo credit: )
Palestinian militants in Lebanon are getting more weapons from Syria, one reason why the Lebanese government has made no significant progress in disbanding and disarming militias that operate with impunity inside its borders, a UN report said Wednesday. The report said that despite some positive steps, Lebanon still has not achieved full "sovereignty and political independence" more than six months after Syria withdrew its troops and intelligence apparatus from its neighbor following a 29-year presence. That conclusion could be a powerful tool for the United States, France and Britain, which have proposed a Security Council resolution that threatens sanctions if Syria doesn't cooperate with a separate probe into the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister. The council discussed the resolution for the first time in a meeting late Wednesday. Diplomats reaffirmed that they hope the foreign ministers of the 15-nation council will adopt the draft in a meeting Monday, but stressed it was still early and differences remain. China and Russia in particular could oppose sanctions. "When a rocket is launched, as it picks up speed and moves down range it goes through a period of aerodynamic turbulence much like Security Council resolutions," US Ambassador John Bolton said. "We're now in the period of aerodynamic turbulence." In the report to the council, Secretary-General Kofi Annan highlighted the difficulties controlling the Lebanon-Syria border and reports of "an increasing influx of weaponry and personnel from Syria" to some militia groups in Lebanon. "The government of Syria has informed me that smuggling of arms and people across the Syrian-Lebanese border does indeed take place, albeit in both directions," he said. The report, prepared by UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, was assessing the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559, which called for Syria to withdraw all military forces and intelligence operatives as well as the disarmament of all militias in Lebanon. It noted important progress because of recent elections and the April troop withdrawal, and said there was no "visible or significant Syrian intelligence" still in Lebanon. But Hizbollah has almost complete control in southern Lebanon where it clashes frequently with IDF troops on the two countries' border. Lebanese authorities generally stay out of Palestinian refugee camps, where many of the weapons from Syrian end up. The report praised Lebanon for making some efforts to clamp down on the Palestinian militant groups, some of which have headquarters in Syria. Earlier Wednesday, the Lebanese military surrounded a mountain militia base linked to weapons smugglers and deployed hundreds of soldiers to another camp following the killing of a Lebanese contractor. Yet it also highlighted that Hizbollah, recently included in Lebanon's new government, remains armed and fiercely protective of its autonomy in the south. "The carrying of arms outside the official armed forces is impossible to reconcile with the participation in power and in government in a democracy," the report said. It urged the Lebanese government to extend its authority throughout southern Lebanon and disarm the militias, praising recent talks in Paris between the Lebanese and Palestinian prime ministers on the issue. While Annan's report notes that Lebanon appears to be moving out from Syria's shadow, the Security Council could still use the report's findings to put new leverage on Syria as it wrestles with a tough draft resolution threatening sanctions.