Syria urges Lebanon to combat arms smuggling

AFP , Thursday 29 Dec 2011

Syria urges the Lebanese government to act against arms smugglers working through the Lebanese border village of Aarsal

Syria's envoy to Beirut has urged the Lebanese government to prevent cross-border arms smuggling, saying the alleged trafficking was "complementary to terrorism".

In an interview with the Hezbollah-run website Al-Intiqad, Ali Abdelkarim Ali called on Lebanon to take "serious, strict measures to end arms smuggling from Lebanon into Syria and... not give in to international pressure."

Ali, the first Syrian ambassador to Lebanon, linked the issue of suspected arms smuggling to claims that Al-Qaeda was operating along the Lebanese-Syrian border, made earlier this month by Lebanon's pro-Syrian defence minister.

"Defence Minister Fayez Ghosn's exposure of Al-Qaeda members who are infiltrating Syria via the Lebanese border village of Aarsal is an issue that must be dealt responsibly and seriously," Ali was quoted as saying.

"Arms smuggling and terrorism are complementary, and measures to put an end to this matter must be clear and decisive."

Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah dominates the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati and is a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who blames the violence in his country on "armed terrorist" groups.

Lebanon's Western-backed opposition, which supports Syrian democracy protesters, has for its part slammed Ghosn as a "minister for the defence of the Assad regime" over his statements.

Lebanon's defence council meanwhile met to discuss escalating tension at the border, which has witnessed deadly shootings in recent weeks as Syrian troops crack down on suspected army defectors and refugees.

"The council emphasised the need to control the security situation in border villages and prevent arms smuggling to and from Lebanon," read a statement issued after Wednesday's meeting attended by the president, premier and army chief.

Lebanon's government has said it is investigating Ghosn's claims a terrorist group was smuggling weapons into Syria through Aarsal, which borders the Syrian protest hub of Homs.

Aarsal, considered a stronghold of opposition leader Saad Hariri, has in recent months witnessed a string of deadly incursions by the Syrian army in a bid to crack down on arms smuggling.

Wounded Syrian protesters have crossed the border into Aarsal to seek medical care in Lebanon as violence escalates in Homs.

The United Nations estimate earlier this month that more than 5,000 people have been killed in the crackdown since protests against the Assad regime began in mid-March.

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