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Syria does not accept int'l forces on its border with Lebanon

IRNA - Islamic Republic News Agency

Beirut, Aug 26, IRNA
Lebanon-Israel-Ceasefire
Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora dismissed Israeli insistence that international forces be deployed on the Syrian border with Lebanon and said Lebanese troops already there posed no threat to Syria.

Israel has said its air and sea blockade imposed on Lebanon at the start of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict on July 12 would remain in place until soldiers from an expanded UN peacekeeping force took up positions along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

Contributing nations to the force have struggled for two weeks to agree on the make up of the peacekeeping mission.

President Jacques Chirac announced that France would now send a total of 2,000 troops and hoped to retain command of the force.

He said the United Nations had provided the guarantees France had sought about the force mandate.

President Bashar Assad lashed out at the Israeli demand for international peacekeepers on Syrian border with Lebanon and termed it a 'hostile' move aimed at damaging relations between the neighbors.

He said it was unprecedented for international forces to police a border between two countries that have not been at war.

Lebanon has two official crossings on the Syrian border in the east, at Masnaa on the Beirut-Damascus road, and one between Baalbek in Lebanon and Homs, Syria.

"We have deployed the Lebanese army on the border (with Syria), and we have no intention of showing any hostility toward Syria. We want cordial relations with Syria and we are taking care of the issue of the border to prevent any infiltration into Lebanon," Siniora said.

His Cabinet reaffirming its determination to uphold the cease-fire and calling on the international community to send forces to free its army to patrol its borders.

Lebanon's Information Minister Ghazi Aridi issued a statement that did not directly address the issue of UN. troops on the Syrian border.

Although Aridi implied that Lebanon would not ask for the deployment of international forces to that frontier, he said the government would ask help from Germany with equipment to control the border.

"The Security Council resolution allows the Lebanese government to ask the world community for help in any way to enable it to exercise its full sovereignty over land and sea borders," he said.

"And the Cabinet directed Prime Minister Siniora to ask German Chancellor Angela Merkel to supply Lebanon's army with the equipment and technology necessary to enable Lebanon to secure its land and sea borders," Aridi said.

The Lebanese president added his voice to the issue Thursday, calling on UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to force Israel to lift its blockade as called for in the UN-brokered cease-fire.

"Eleven days after Resolution 1701 went into effect, Israel's aggressive acts against Lebanon have not stopped yet," President Emile Lahoud said in a statement released by his office.

"Israeli forces are still occupying Lebanese territory in the south. The Israeli land, sea and air blockade is still imposed on Lebanon. All follow-ups made by the Lebanese state did not yield any results, while we hear conditions from here and there infringing on Lebanese sovereignty and harming independence and freedom of decision-making which Lebanon cannot accept," he added.

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen said Sunday that 2,000 Lebanese soldiers have been deployed so far along Lebanon's eastern border near Syria with the goal of eventually having 8,600 along the border.

Some 1,000 Lebanese soldiers also have been deployed along Lebanon's coastline, he said.

The international community has been slow to come together in volunteering troops for the UN-mandated force.

European Union foreign ministers were taking up the issue in Brussels on Friday under heavy pressure to move quickly to get at least a vanguard of the expanded force on the ground next week.

Geneva-based representatives of aid agencies expressed concern over the growing dispute surrounding the Lebanon-Syria border, but refused to comment directly on Syria's apparent threat to seal the frontier if international troops were deployed along it.

On Wednesday, Finland's foreign minister, Erkki Tuomioja, came out of a meeting with his Syrian counterpart and said Damascus threatened to close the border if that happened.

Italy has said it was willing to lead the UN force and would send 3,000 soldiers to supplement the current 2,000-strong UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon and led by the French.

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