BEIRUT: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria to end its incursions into Lebanon and voiced concern over the involvement of some Lebanese groups in the neighboring country’s conflict in a report to the Security Council.
“I call upon the government of Syria to cease all violations of the border and to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon,” Ban said in the 21st edition of the report on the implementation of Resolution 1701, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star.
The U.N. chief’s report on Resolution 1701 and the commitment of both Lebanon and Israel in maintaining calm along the Blue Line will be discussed by the Security Council later this month.
Since the start of the conflict in neighboring Syria, cross-border shelling has claimed the lives of many Lebanese and caused the country material damage.
In the report, which covers the period between Oct. 30, 2012, and the end of last month, Ban condemned the involvement of some Lebanese groups in the Syrian war and warned of “serious challenges” to Lebanon’s security:
“The dangers ... of such involvement and indeed of continued cross-border arms smuggling are obvious.”
Mentioning the late November killing of Lebanese nationals in an ambush by the Syrian army in the border town of Tal Kalakh, as well as reports of Hezbollah members fighting inside Syria, Ban urged commitment to the country’s policy of dissociation from the crisis in Syria.
“I call upon all Lebanese political leaders to act to ensure that Lebanon remains neutral in respect of external conflicts consistent with their commitment in the Baabda Declaration,” Ban said, in reference to an agreement by rival Lebanese leaders to stay out of regional hostilities.
In the 17-page document, Ban said that major obligations outlined in U.N. Resolution 1701 were still “outstanding,” indicating that illegal arms are present in south Lebanon – a Hezbollah stronghold – where UNIFIL peacekeeping troops operate.
The U.N. recorded two attempts to launch rockets at Israel from Lebanon during the weeklong conflict last November between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, the report said. Ban also voiced concern over a large explosion that rocked the southern Lebanese town of Tair Harfa in December.
Ban said the uncertain security situation had led the country to a “political stalemate” and could affect the expected parliamentary elections scheduled for June 9. He stressed that the polls must be held on time.
“I am concerned that disagreements over the electoral law have overshadowed necessary preparations for the elections,” Ban said.
“I encourage all parties in Lebanon to work to ensure that elections take place on a consensual basis within the legal constitutional timeframe.”
In his report, Ban also told the U.N. that Lebanon is facing “increasing challenges” with the influx of Syrian refugees to the country. He called for Lebanon to be provided with the funds pledged earlier this year by the international community to assist the country.
“Quick delivery of these pledges is a key priority now if the suffering of the refugees is to be alleviated and if Lebanon is to sustain its capacity to address increased numbers of refugees at the current rates of influx,” Ban said.
In a conference in Kuwait on Jan. 30, Lebanon appealed to the Arab League and the international donor community for some $200 million to help cope with a rising number of Syrian refugees in the country. There are now more than 300,000 refugees, a number expected to increase to at least half a million by this summer.
Ban also hailed President Michel Sleiman’s effort in bringing together Lebanese parties over a national defense strategy and urged politicians to return to the dialogue table following the crisis sparked by the assassination of senior security official Brig. Gen. Wissam al-Hasan.
The U.N. chief said that the Oct. 19 killing of Hasan should not go unpunished, nor should other assassination attempts, so as to spare politicians from living amid death threats.
The National Dialogue would be the “best mechanism” to ensure an agreement would be reached on ensuring arms were kept under the authority of the Lebanese state, Ban said.
He cited repeated security incidents in the city of Tripoli, saying that the recurrence of armed clashes “underlines the extent to which Lebanon needs to take further concrete steps to counter the prevalence of weapons outside the authority of the state.”
Ban also voiced concern over some “aggressive behavior towards UNIFIL personnel,” but added that the number of incidents between southern residents and soldiers operating in the international force is “marginal.”
He also hailed efforts by the Lebanese Army in light of rising security challenges in the country and the region. He said the Army had “for the first time, at the prompting of the Lebanese government, sought to prioritize strategically its immediate needs in light of those multiple challenges.”
In last year’s report, Ban also stressed the need for commitment to dissociation from events in Syria and hailed Sleiman’s efforts to resume Dialogue, reiterating that Hezbollah and other groups’ continued possession of arms outside state control violates Resolutions 1559 and 1701.