BEIRUT: Interior Minister Marwan Charbel and France called on Lebanon Sunday to uphold the disassociation policy on the Syrian crisis if it is to be spared the adverse consequences of the 2-year-old bloody conflict next door.
Meanwhile, the rebel Free Syrian Army claimed that Hezbollah had recruited several thousands of its fighters in preparation for a massive military invasion of rebel-held Syrian areas near the border with Lebanon in order to shore up the regime of embattled President Bashar Assad. Referring to recent incidents on the Lebanese-Syrian border in which four Lebanese were killed by gunfire from the Syrian side of the frontier, Charbel said: “The Lebanese state and the Army are carrying out their duties within the available means on the border with Syria. Legal crossings are under the Army’s command, but there are illegal crossings. Shells are being fired from both two sides [of the border].”
“When there is an accord [among the rival Lebanese factions] to distance ourselves from the events in Syria, the situation will be better and nothing will happen on the border,” Charbel told reporters in Qobeiyat after inspecting the municipal by-election process in the northern town.
Last month, President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Najib Mikati urged Syria to stop shelling Lebanese territory after four Lebanese were killed by gunfire from the Syrian side of the border in the Wadi Khaled region and the village of Heesha.
The renewal of deadly incidents on the Lebanese-Syrian border, which had claimed the lives of several Lebanese citizens last year, evoked fresh calls by the opposition March 14 parties for the deployment of the Lebanese Army and U.N. troops along the two countries’ common boundaries.
Charbel’s remarks coincided with a statement by a French official who said that Lebanon needs to uphold both its disassociation policy on the crisis in Syria and the Baabda Declaration in order to defuse internal tensions arising from the Lebanese parties’ split over the conflict in the neighboring country.
In remarks published by a local newspaper Sunday, French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said that all Lebanese sides should respect the agreement to insulate Lebanon from regional conflicts, better known as the Baabda Declaration.
Asked if Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting inside Syria against anti-regime rebels posed serious challenges to Lebanon’s security, Lalliot said: “With regard to the Syrian crisis which threatens stability in the region, France stands on the side of the Lebanese authorities in their determination to defuse internal tensions and it supports the disassociation policy adopted by these authorities.”
He urged the rival Lebanese factions to respect the Baabda Declaration that, he said, “calls on all the parties in the Lebanese arena to bide by a neutral policy on the crisis in Syria.”
The Baabda Declaration, signed by rival March 8 and March 14 leaders in 2012, calls for “keeping Lebanon away from the policy of regional and international conflicts and sparing it the negative repercussions of regional tensions and crises.”
There are fears Lebanon’s stability could be shaken by events in Syria, particularly following reports that Hezbollah members were fighting against armed Syrian rebels seeking to topple the Assad regime.
Last month, three Hezbollah fighters and 12 Syrian rebels were killed in fierce battles in the Syrian town of alQusair, whose residents are mostly Lebanese Shiites. AlQusair is located 5 km from the northeastern border with Lebanon.
Following the clashes, the Syrian opposition accused Hezbollah of “military intervention” in the neighboring country’s conflict.
The FSA’s joint command warned Sunday that Hezbollah is preparing for a large-scale invasion of rebel-held areas near the border, the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya channel reported.
The FSA claimed in a statement that Hezbollah had recruited several thousands of its fighters in the Baalbek-Hermel region and border areas with Syria, particularly near alQusair and the Homs province, for this purpose.
Describing the alleged Hezbollah military buildup as “a declaration of an open war” on Syria and the Syrian people, the FSA urged the United Nations and the Arab League to convene an emergency session to prevent a military flare-up on the common border with Lebanon, according to Al-Arabiya.
The FSA warned of the “grave consequences” of Hezbollah’s military intervention in Syria and called for sending Arab or international troops to maintain security on the border.
Meanwhile, the Syrian Ambassador Ali Abdel-Karim Ali said that his country would continue to respond to any sources of fire from across the border with Lebanon as a part of standard procedures.
“[Gunmen on the border] represent a violation of the sovereignty of both Lebanon and Syria. What Syria and its military are doing is responding to sources of fire which can only be viewed as necessary to protect Syria and its sovereignty,” Ali told reporters after meeting Foreign Minister Adnan Mansour Saturday. “This is a normal practice,” he added.
Mansour had been asked by Mikati to protest to Syrian authorities over the recent Syrian shelling of northern border villages that killed four Lebanese. However, Ali denied he had been summoned by Mansour, saying he had requested the meeting with the minister.