UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) â€” Arms are still flowing across the Syrian border to Palestinians in Lebanon, a UN report said on Wednesday, adding further pressure on Damascus after threats of sanctions by France and the United States.
Secretary General Kofi Annan, in a report to the UN Security Council, said the “illegal transfer of arms and people” over the Syrian-Lebanese border undermined Beirut’s efforts to control its territory.
The report, prepared by UN special envoy Terje Roed Larsen, implied but did not directly accuse the Damascus government of supplying weapons to Palestinian groups in Lebanon which have their headquarters in Syria.
Syria’s UN envoy, Faisal Mekdad, rejected this. “If you go to Lebanon you can find arms anywhere. We don’t allow any export of weapons,” he said.
Hours before the report was issued, Lebanese troops and tanks encircled military bases run by pro-Syrian Palestinian factions, witnesses and security sources in Beirut said.
The army set up checkpoints at Sultan Yacoub in the eastern Bekaa Valley, where the Syrian-backed Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command runs a tunnel network dug into the hills.
Annan’s report was a response to Security Council resolution 1559 in September 2004 that called for Syria to withdraw all its troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon and to disarm militias. This would include Palestinian groups and the Lebanese Hizbollah fighters, who dominate the south.
The 15-page study said recent reports showed “an increasing influx of weaponry and personnel from Syria to some of these groups.” It said Syria acknowledged that arms and people were being smuggled over the border, “albeit in both direction.” Last week a UN investigating team led by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis blamed Syrian security officials and their Lebanese allies of organising the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri on February 14.
Mehlis said Syria was obstructing the investigation into the killing, which led to protests and international pressure resulting in Syria pulling its troops out of Lebanon after a 29-year presence.
A draft UN resolution, sponsored by the United States, France and Britain, demands Syria detain suspects Mehlis wants to question and calls for consideration of economic sanctions if Damascus does not comply.
The resolution is likely to be a hard sell.
A spokesman for Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow would “do everything necessary to stop attempts to introduce sanctions against Syria.” But US Ambassador John Bolton told reporters that the draft resolution did not impose blanket sanctions as such.
Instead he pointed to its demand for sanctions, such as a travel ban and a freeze on overseas assets, against individuals suspected of complicity in the killing.
“I think that’s something that’s entirely reasonable to do, and as the Russian government has a chance to review the resolution, we’re hoping we’re going to get their support for it,” Bolton said.
However, Syria’s Mekdad said: “This is a United States agenda. It is not a Russian or a Chinese agenda. You will not find it surprising they won’t support an agenda which is very aggressive in nature.” Lebanon has already arrested and charged four generals and others with complicity in the truck bomb murder that killed Hariri and 22 others.
On Wednesday, Beirut charged two more men, Ahmad Abdel Al of the pro-Syrian Islamic group, Abash, and his brother Mahmoud Abdel Al for suspected involvement in the murder plot.
Ahmad was said by Mehlis to have used his cellphone to call the key suspected plotters. His brother called the mobile phone of pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud shortly before the blast but Mehlis said Lahoud was not a suspect.