BEIRUT: Lebanon’s historic ties with Syria were unaffected by the recent spat over border violations, two pro-Assad ministers said Thursday, as Syria’s ambassador called on the Lebanese government to take tougher measures to prevent the infiltration of armed groups into Syrian territory. “I can confirm that the row over border violations has been overcome. There is no crisis or tension in relations between Lebanon and Syria,” Minister of State Ali Qanso told The Daily Star. “Relations between the two neighboring countries are too strong to be shaken by a problem here or there.”
Qanso, who belongs to the pro-Damascus Syrian Social National Party, said Lebanese-Syrian ties were not affected by the exchange of memos Wednesday complaining about border incursions of each country’s sovereignty.
“The Syrian memo to Lebanon exposed Syria’s recorded violations of its security from Lebanese territories, including the smuggling of arms and gunmen and gunfire from the Lebanese side of the border,” he said.
Meanwhile, the opposition March 14 coalition refuted allegations by Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar Jaafari who accused some Lebanese political parties of “financing, arming and harboring terrorist groups on Lebanese territory.”
“There is no real value for Jaafari’s remarks on terrorist groups except to satisfy some. They are a proof of failure pointing to the demise of the Syrian regime,” Future MP Ammar Houry told Al-Arabiya satellite channel.
Accusing Jaafari of trying to involve Lebanon in the Syrian crisis, he said: “We are protected against any Syrian intervention in Lebanon. When the [Syrian] regime falls, matters will return to normal between the two states.”Also speaking to Al-Arabiya, Nawfal Daou, a member of the March 14 Secretariat General, said it was not the first time Jaafari unleashed lies against Lebanon.
“The Syrian regime is unable to solve its internal problems,” he said. “The problem in Lebanon has never been in its leaders or politicians, but in the Syrian regime’s intervention in it.”
Political sources said President Michel Sleiman’s decision to ask Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour to send a letter of protest to the Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali over Syria’s repeated violations of the Lebanese border will not lead to a strain in bilateral relations. “Sleiman’s move was in defense of national sovereignty,” a source told The Daily Star.
Former Minister and MP Edmond Rizk slammed the Syrian ambassador for responding to Sleiman’s demand to protest the Syrian border violations.
“I don’t think there are precedents in diplomatic work and customs for an ambassador of a state to allow himself to exceed all known diplomatic courtesy in the world to respond to the president and pre-empt his letter [of protest] with another letter,” Rizk told Future News TV.
Ali received a Lebanese memo that calls on the Syrian authorities to avoid a repeat of incursions into Lebanese territory. Ali returned the favor and objected to the Lebanese violations in a separate memo the same day.
The memo to Damascus was sent by Mansour two days after Sleiman had asked him to send it. The repeated incursions on Lebanese territory have to date resulted in at least 10 deaths.
The latest deadly incident took place Sunday when the Syrian army entered in Masharih al-Qaa in the Bekaa in its actions against armed Syrian rebels, killing four of them and causing damage to property on the Lebanese side.
In an interview with Al-Jadeed TV Thursday night, Mansour said the Syrian memo did not hold the Lebanese state responsible for border violations. “The memo said that armed elements infiltrated [from Lebanon] into Syria,” he said.
In another interview with Al-Manar TV, Mansour said five Lebanese had been killed inside Syria and their bodies were still there. “We want to stop any infiltration from and to Lebanon,” he said. However, he did not say how the five Lebanese had been killed and by whom.
Mansour met Thursday with Nasri Khoury, head of the Higher Lebanese-Syrian Council, to discuss the issue of border violations. Khoury did not speak to reporters after the meeting, saying only: “It was a protocol visit. I haven’t seen Minister Mansour for a while.”
In an interview with As-Safir newspaper, Mansour said the Syrian memo spoke of “violations from the Lebanese side through the infiltration of [armed] elements and gunfire.”
“What happened in the north will not break the brotherly ties between Lebanon and Syria. These ties are strong and historic and cannot be broken by any incident, especially since the two countries are bound by joint security agreements.”
Mansour was referring to last Sunday’s border violation incident when some 30 Syrian army soldiers crossed into the Masharih al-Qaa village of Al-Joura, which is on the Lebanese side of the border-crossing. They came some 500 meters into the country, raiding homes. One man was wounded in the exchange, a house was burned down, and several other homes were damaged.
For his part, Ali called on the Lebanese government to tighten security measures to prevent infiltration of armed groups into Syria from Lebanese territory.
“The Lebanese Army is working hard to control border violations, but we hope they will take tougher measures in their pursuit of gunmen,” he told Al-Liwaa newspaper. He blamed “armed outlaws” on the Lebanese side of the border for shooting incidents, which “prompted the Syrian army to respond to the source of fire.”
Two weeks ago, the Lebanese Army deployed troops in north Lebanon as well as the northern and eastern border with Syria following a spate of deadly incidents along the border. The military deployment was in line with a government decision aimed at protecting citizens following repeated Syrian incursions into Lebanese territory. – With additional reporting by Rakan Fakih