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Ban: Syria crisis risks shattering Lebanon calm
Syrian armoured personnel carriers are seen at the Wadi Khalid area near the Syrian border in northern Lebanon April 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)
Syrian armoured personnel carriers are seen at the Wadi Khalid area near the Syrian border in northern Lebanon April 12, 2012. (REUTERS/Jamal Saidi)
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BEIRUT: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said Friday he was deeply concerned about the potential impact of the Syrian crisis on the political and security situation in Lebanon, and expressed disappointment for the lack of progress in the implementation of Resolution 1559, including the disarmament of Hezbollah.

While Lebanon has “witnessed relative political stability over [the last six months] ... this calm is very fragile, and increasingly vulnerable to the deterioration of the situation in Syria,” Ban wrote in his latest semiannual report on the execution of the resolution that was signed in 2004 to strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty.

Ban also voiced anxiety over the failure of Lebanon and Syria to delineate their shared border.

“Against the backdrop of the escalating crisis in Syria there has been yet again no concrete progress toward the implementation of the outstanding provisions of Resolution 1559,” he wrote.

Furthermore, he said, the “deepening crisis” in Syria, was “increasing political polarization” in Lebanon. However, Ban commended the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati “for its efforts to date to ensure that the negative impact of the crisis in Syria on Lebanon is limited.”

The demarcation of Lebanon’s boundaries “remains an essential element to guarantee the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” he said. Ban deplored the border incursions, sometimes fatal, by the Syrian army, and expressed concern over the “reports of illegal arm transfers now allegedly taking place in both directions,” which he said the U.N. was unable to independently verify.

Controlling the porous border was also vital, Ban said, to prevent the illegal flow of weapons to non-state actors within Lebanon – another key focus of his report.

Ban said a series of recent security incidents had highlighted the threat to national stability posed by non-state actors, including the December attack on a UNIFIL patrol near Tyre, which wounded five peacekeepers and two Lebanese civilians; the firing in November of several rockets across the Blue Line toward Israel; explosions in Tyre in November and December; and the fighting between Alawite and Sunni communities in the city of Tripoli in February, which left three people dead.

Viewed alongside the assassination attempt April 4 on Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, in regard to which he urged authorities to “deploy every effort to arrest those responsible,” Ban said this series of incidents is “indicative yet again of the ongoing security threats in the country and the proliferation of weapons held by non-state actors.”

They also serve as a reminder, he added, that the Lebanese authorities “should do more to impose law and order throughout the country.”

“The existence and activities of Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias continue to pose a threat to the stability of the country,” Ban writes, and “highlight the need for the government of Lebanon and the Lebanese Armed Forces to increase their efforts to reach a full monopoly on the possession of weapons and the use of force throughout Lebanon.”

“While several groups across the political spectrum in Lebanon possess weapons outside government control,” Ban said, “the armed component of Hezbollah is the most significant and most heavily armed Lebanese militia in the country, reaching almost the capacities of a regular army.”

During the last six months, Ban writes, Hezbollah has publically acknowledged, for the first time, that Iran has provided the party with “political, moral, financial and logistical support,” and that it has upgraded its military capabilities. Iran, Ban added, should encourage Hezbollah to disarm.

The Taif Accord of 1989, which stipulated all non-state actors disarm, must be implemented, Ban said, “to avoid the specter of a renewed confrontation among the Lebanese.”

He urged, “once again all political leaders to transcend sectarian and individual interests and genuinely promote the future and interests of the state.”

Hezbollah’s “sizeable sophisticated military capabilities” outside the control of the state, “creates an atmosphere of intimidation and represents a key challenge to the safety of Lebanese civilians,” Ban writes.

Renewing his calls for Hezbollah to disarm, Ban commented that, “In a democratic state, a political party cannot maintain its own militia.”

The disarmament of Hezbollah and other armed groups would be best achieved by a Lebanese-led cross-partisan political process, Ban said, recommending the resumption of the National Dialogue sessions, last held in November 2010.

While President Michel Sleiman has expressed to Ban his intention to reconvene the National Dialogue on numerous occasions, “there is no indication at this stage that it will happen soon.”

In terms of security within Lebanon’s 12 Palestinian refugee camps, Ban said the situation had remained largely stable over the last six months, but expressed concern over the presence of Palestinian armed groups outside of the camps, especially along the border with Syria, which again challenged the sovereignty of the country and highlighted the need for border demarcation.

Ban also slammed Israel’s “almost daily” intrusions into Lebanese airspace, which, he said, “raise tension, undermine the credibility of Lebanese security services, increase the risk of unintended conflict and generate anxiety among the civilian population.”

The U.N. secretary-general also said that the continued Israeli occupation of the northern part of the village of Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line stands in violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. Efforts by Ban and his representatives to engage closely with both parties to bring about the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the areas were ongoing, he said.

In terms of Palestinian refugees in the country, Ban urged the Lebanese authorities to improve their “dire and precarious” living conditions, “in particular given the detrimental effects of dismal living conditions on the wider security situation.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 21, 2012, on page 1.
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