Syria threatens to close border


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Syria threatens to close border if UN force deployed
by Jocelyne Zablit
Thu Aug 24, 8:43 AM ET

Syria has threatened to close its border with Lebanon if UN peacekeepers are 
deployed there, further complicating the struggle by world powers to agree on 
the makeup and role of a force to police a fragile ceasefire.

The warning came as EU diplomats met in Brussels for a second day Thursday to 
prepare for a meeting Friday of foreign ministers, attended by UN Secretary 
General Kofi Annan, to try to hammer out who will come on board.

A partial breakthrough seemed to emerge Thursday, when officials in Paris 
announced that France might send "hundreds more" troops to join the 400 it 
already has in Lebanon.

Following talks Wednesday in Helsinki with Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, 
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said "they will close the frontier for 
all traffic (if) the UN troops will be deployed" along the border.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad also warned that deploying foreign troops along
the border as envisioned under the UN resolution that led to the August 14 
ceasefire would be a "hostile" act against his country.

Resolution 1701 calls on Lebanon "to secure its borders and other entry points 
to prevent the entry in Lebanon without its consent of arms," and Lebanese 
troops have deployed along the Syrian border in the north and east of the 
country, military sources said.

An enlarged UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) would enforce an embargo on 
arms shipments to the Shiite militant group Hezbollah, whose capture of two 
soldiers on July 12 led to an Israeli onslaught and 34 days of heavy fighting.

Washington and Israel accuse Syria of acting as a transit point for shipments of
arms and other supplies from Iran to Hezbollah.

Iran and Syria deny the claim.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora took issue with Assad Wednesday, saying 
Lebanon would act to preserve its sovereignty and independence.

Relations between Beirut and Damascus are at their lowest point since the 
withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon in April 2005 following the murder of 
former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

Asked whether the United States took Damascus's reservations about the troop 
deployment seriously, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino replied: "No".

In Brussels, meanwhile, EU members struggled to shed light on who is to play 
what role in the enlarged UN force.

Pressure is growing on EU states to overcome indecision on how many troops they 
are willing to provide and under what conditions.

EU foreign policy chief Javier "Solana has spoken from the start about 4,000 
European soldiers. That seems a good target, that will represent a very 
important presence in the international force," spokeswoman Cristina Gallach 

However, that would be far fewer than the force of 15,000 troops envisaged in 
the resolution.

In addition to being ready to lead the force, Italian Prime Minister Romano 
Prodi has offered some 3,000 troops, although he insisted a new Security Council
resolution was needed to clearly define the peacekeepers' role.

France has come under criticism for sending just 200 soldiers to join 200 
already incorporated into UNIFIL under its previous mandate.

But an official in Paris said France may announce Thursday that its total 
contribution to UNIFIL "could be in the order of 1,500 to 2,000 men."

Government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope said President Jacques Chirac has called
a meeting with Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin and other senior ministers 
to discuss Lebanon.

Chirac has left the door open to sending more soldiers, but only under UN 
guarantees that the force's mandate be sufficiently robust and autonomous to 
avoid a repeat of UN peacekeeping fiascos, such as during the Bosnia war.

And Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Thursday Warsaw may
send several hundred more soldiers to join the 213 already there.

In contrast, Indian Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee was quoted as saying New 
Delhi was considering pullings its 775 soldiers out of UNIFIL, but not before UN
reinforcements arrive.

With much of the concern focused on what role peacekeepers might have in dealing
with Hezbollah, one of its MPs was quoted as saying Hezbollah would not breach 
the ceasefire but could respond to violations by Israel.

"The resistance (Hezbollah) is committed to the cessation of hostilities until 
the complete ceasefire is achieved," Mohamed Raad said in an interview with 
Al-Balad newspaper.

"The resistance and the army may decide to confront these violations anytime the
government sees the need to take a political decision to put an end to these 

In Jerusalem, meanwhile, the Israeli army chief admitted for the first time to 
failures during the Lebanon war and called for the mistakes to be examined.

"Parallel with our success, during combat we observed failures in certain areas,
notably in the areas of logistics, operations and command," Dan Halutz said in a
letter to the army.

"We have to proceed to a meaningful examination of the successes and the errors.
We have to extract professional lessons, as we are faced with more challenges 
... This test concerns us all, from me down to the last soldier."

Copyright © 2006 Agence France Presse.
Copyright © 2006 Yahoo! Inc. All rights reserved.

Escaping the Matrix website
cyberjournal website  
subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives      
  cyberjournal forum  
  Achieving real democracy
  for readers of ETM  
  Community Empowerment
  Blogger made easy