BEIRUT: In a petition to President Michel Sleiman Tuesday, the March 14 coalition called for the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers along the northern border with Syria in response to Damascus’ repeated violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Syria’s Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali riposted that realizing such a demand was impossible.
The petition, handed by Future parliamentary bloc leader MP Fouad Siniora to Sleiman at Baabda Palace, also calls for the expulsion of Ali.
The memo, which was signed by 58 lawmakers, calls for the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon on the poorly demarcated northern border with Syria, which is estimated to be around 550 km long.
UNIFIL has been in south Lebanon since 1978 and was expanded after the 2006 war so peacekeepers could deploy along the border with Israel to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades.
The memo also demands considering Ali a persona non grata “for playing a security and intelligence role rather than a diplomatic one” in his capacity as ambassador.
It also called for taking the case of former Information Minister Michel Samaha to the Judicial Council since “it is a crime against state security.”
The government’s deputy commissioner at the Military Tribunal accused Samaha and two Syrian army generals of plotting terror attacks in Lebanon and planning to assassinate religious and political figures.
Sources close to Sleiman told The Daily Star that the president had told Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem in a meeting on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran last week that the case of Samaha and the Syrian generals was in the hands of the Lebanese judiciary.
Sleiman told the Syrian officials he was interested in maintaining good relations with Damascus and President Bashar Assad, but was not willing to interfere with the judiciary on the case.
Ali told Al-Manar television it was impossible to deploy UNIFIL troops on the Lebanese-Syrian borders.
“The possibility of achieving this demand is zero,” he said, adding that the Lebanese government was the party concerned with responding to the March 14 memo. The U.N. is probing ways of assisting Lebanese authorities in controlling the border with its neighbor Syria, U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly said following discussions with Prime Minister Najib Mikati Tuesday.
“We, with donors, have been helping over a period of years but we are looking now with more urgency at what we can do to help the security authorities here in Lebanon to control the border as it should be,” Plumbly said in a statement released by his office when asked whether the U.N. had any intention to deploy peacekeepers along the border with Syria.
Plumbly also denounced the recent deadly gunbattles in the northern city of Tripoli and the spree of retaliatory kidnappings of Syrians and Turkish nationals in Lebanon and of Lebanese in Syria.
“We strongly hope that all those who have been kidnapped will be released without any further delay,” Plumbly said.
The March 14 memo also touched on the Tripoli clashes and a recent spate of kidnappings that rocked the country. It urged the government to meet and make an immediate decision to simultaneously disarm the Tripoli areas of Jabal Mohsen and Bab al-Tabbaneh, which have been the scene for clashes last month that claimed at least 16 lives and left over a 120 wounded.
The memo demanded that the government take all the necessary measures to free all those who were kidnapped in Lebanon and bring to justice whoever was responsible for the kidnappings.
UNIFIL representative Andrea Tenenti said that the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers on the border with Syria required the approval of the U.N. Security Council.
“The government’s request for UNIFIL’s assistance along the border with Syria is not enough – the approval of all 15 countries of the Security Council is needed,” Tenenti said.
“The UNIFIL mandate under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701 is very specific to the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line with Israel,” he added.
The call by opposition groups comes in response to repeated Syrian shelling of Lebanese border towns which at times has resulted in loss of innocent lives and material damage.
Mikati asked Lebanon’s Ambassador to Damascus Michel Khoury Monday to relay to Syrian officials objections over the shelling.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoabi denied Monday that any shelling had taken place, saying the Syrian army had had no part in any shelling of Lebanese border villages and that it had no intentions whatsoever to interfere in Lebanon.
The March 14 memo urged Sleiman to bring up the issue of Syrian shelling of Lebanese border towns in Cabinet meetings as a first step to reporting “the violation” to the Arab League.
The memo also called for suspending the Lebanese-Syrian Higher Council and canceling all security and judicial agreements between the two countries.
Commenting on the March 14 move, Free Patriotic Movement leader MP Michel Aoun said the border area between Lebanon and Syria was not properly controlled, adding that the Syrian shelling could be in response to gunfire from the Lebanese side.
“We need an explanation of the shelling on the border with Syria after which we can take a position on the issue,” Aoun said.
“It is our duty to protect our citizens if they are subject to attack but we need to know first if the shelling is a reaction,” he added.