Lebanon News

Lebanese, Syrian authorities discuss joint border, weapons smuggling

BEIRUT: A joint subcommittee of the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council agreed Thursday to promote cooperation to counter weapons smuggling, amid recent reports of increased arm trafficking to Syrian opposition groups seeking to oust the regime.

The decision was made during discussions between officials of the Syrian-Lebanese joint committee of the Bekaa region and the Damascus countryside at the Grand Serail under the sponsorship of the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council.

“The committee discussed smuggling operations and conflict around the Lebanese-Syrian border area, as well as facilitating the work of farmers,” Syrian Brigadier Abdel Razak al-Mutlaq told reporters.

While Syrian authorities have accused the Future Movement of supporting the smuggling of weapons to Syrian opposition groups, the Lebanese Army Intelligence Branch and border police have confirmed only a few of the many incidences of arm smuggling reported by the media.

Lebanese security forces arrested three Lebanese last month on charges of attempting to smuggle automatic rifles from the Beirut coastline by boat.

“Smuggling operations were discussed particularly in light of events taking place in Syria and [smugglers are made up of] different nationalities. There are people taking advantage of the situation and entering Syria from Lebanon,” Mutlaq added.

Syria’s allies in Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah, have also accused the Future Movement of smuggling weapons to Syria and using Lebanon as a launch pad to attack Damascus, but the Future Movement has denied the allegations and security sources have said that Lebanese political parties are not playing any role in the trafficking of arms.

Since mid-March, Syria has witnessed escalatinganti-government protests aimed at toppling President BasharAssad and his government, while Syrian authorities have engaged in a violent crackdown on protesters.

The issue of disputed land ownership between Lebanese and Syrian farmers was also a focus of discussions between officials of the two countries.

Baalbek Qaemaqam Omar Yassin described cooperation between Lebanese and Syrian officials to solve the issue of disputed investment in agricultural land as very positive.

“We carried out the necessary investigations and the committee will work to resolve the issue and handle the complaints of farmers,” Yassin said.

A statement released following the meeting said the committee decided to halt all investments activities in agricultural areas until all disputes are resolved.

The meeting also saw discussions to facilitate the entry of Lebanese farmers from the villages of Toufail and Maaraboun into Syria, while Syrian officials filed two complaints over the felling of trees on the Syrian side of the border.

“Both sides agreed on maintaining cooperation between all members of the committee and particularly security officials to prevent all smuggling activities on both sides of the border,” the statement concluded.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 23, 2011, on page 2.




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