Syria rejects EU border presence


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Syria rejects EU border presence: media
By Dominic Evans
Sat Sep 9, 5:30 PM ET

Syria said on Saturday it did not accept the deployment of European guards on 
the Lebanese side of the two countries' border to help prevent alleged arms 
shipments to Hizbollah.

The official news agency SANA said "there is no truth to news reports of Syria's
acceptance of European border guards to monitor the border from Lebanon."

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi earlier said Syria had agreed in principle 
to allow unarmed European Union personnel to patrol its border with Lebanon.

Prodi had said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who last month warned 
deployment of international forces on the border would be a "hostile" move, had 
approved the idea. Prodi added he hoped it would be discussed by EU foreign 
ministers next week.

Israel, which waged a 34-day war against Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon, had 
called for an international presence on the Lebanon-Syria border to prevent arms
smuggling as a condition for a full Israeli military withdrawal from Lebanon.

Syria and Iran are widely believed to ship arms and money to the Hizbollah 

"The EU has significant experience in training and deploying border guards so I 
expressed (to Assad) the idea of an EU mission to the frontier between Syria and
Lebanon," Prodi said, adding that Assad "gave his firm agreement in principle."

The EU personnel would be unarmed and would not wear uniforms, Prodi said, and 
would bolster 500 Syrian border guards that Assad has already committed. Prodi 
said Annan and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana backed the idea.

Prodi's comments came shortly after more than 200 French military engineers 
arrived at Beirut port, the advance group of a battalion which will bolster a 
U.N. force set up to keep the peace between Israel and Hizbollah in south 

"They are the forward group of a French battalion which is due to arrive next 
week," said Alexander Ivanko, spokesman for the UNIFIL peacekeepers.


Israel invaded south Lebanon and struck targets across the country after 
Hizbollah captured two of its soldiers in a cross-border raid on July 12.

It has gradually withdrawn forces since an August 14 cease-fire and U.N. 
Secretary-General Kofi Annan says it should complete the withdrawal once 5,000 
U.N. troops reach south Lebanon.

The French troops arriving on Saturday brought the total U.N. force to around 
3,350, Ivanko said. Between 200 and 300 French logistics specialists and 
engineers disembarked at the port, offloading six armored carriers and 100 

The U.N. force could reach 5,000 once the rest of the 700-strong French 
battalion arrive next week and an expected Spanish contingent of around 900 
troops reach Lebanon, he added.

But security sources say logistics problems, including painstaking demining 
operations in south Lebanon, could delay the actual deployment of the 

Pakistan said on Saturday it would send troops to help clear mines and 
unexploded ordnance in the area.

Under the U.N. Security Council resolution that halted the war, up to 15,000 
U.N. troops are to join a similar number of Lebanese soldiers deploying in the 
south to secure a border zone free of any Israeli or armed Hizbollah presence.

The French contingent arrived a day after Israel ended a two-month naval embargo
which Lebanon said was hindering reconstruction of bridges, homes, roads and 
factories destroyed by Israeli bombardment.

Israel lifted the blockade, which it said it imposed to prevent Hizbollah 
re-arming, after Italian, French and Greek naval forces arrived to patrol 
Lebanon's coast.

Beirut port director Hassan Kraytem said four ships had arrived since the 
blockade was lifted, two container ships, and others with shipments of wheat and

"Today the situation was very good, work is back to normal," he said, adding he 
hoped the port could recoup some of the $10 million-a-month revenue which it 
lost since July 12.

On Thursday, Israel lifted its air blockade of Lebanon, allowing commercial 
airliners to resume flights to Beirut airport which was bombed early in the 

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Lin Noueihed, and Khaled Yacoub Oweis)

Copyright © 2006 Reuters Limited.
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

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