Lebanon's president: don't send fighters to Syria

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Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman talks during a news conference at the presidential palace in Cote d'Ivoire's capital Abidjan on 15 March 2013. (Photo: Reuters - Luc Gnago)

Published Saturday, March 16, 2013

Lebanon must prevent fighters from crossing into Syria, Lebanese President Michel Sleiman said after Damascus said it would respond to cross-border infiltrations.

Sleiman made the remarks while meeting with the Lebanese community in the Ivory Coast during an official visit, according to a statement from his office on Saturday.

Lebanon's stability depends "on all of us ... not sending militants to Syria and not receiving them," he said, adding "we must commit ourselves to neutrality."

Sleiman said he had tasked Lebanon's army with "the arrest of any militants intending to fight (in Syria), whether for the opposition or not."

His comments came after Syria said on Thursday that its forces would fire into Lebanon if "terrorist gangs" continued to infiltrate the country.

"These past 36 hours, armed terrorist gangs have infiltrated Syrian territory in large numbers from Lebanon," the Syrian foreign ministry said, in a message quoted by official news agency SANA.

"Syrian forces are showing restraint by not striking these gangs inside Lebanese territory to prevent them crossing into Syria, but this will not go on indefinitely," it said in a message to its Lebanese counterpart.

The UN Security Council on Thursday expressed "grave concern" about cross-border attacks.

A Lebanese government source, speaking to AFP on Saturday, said Beirut took the warning "very seriously" and that "intensive consultations are underway to find the best way to control the border."

Beirut has officially pledged neutrality in the violence engulfing its neighbor, but has found itself increasingly embroiled in the civil war.

Lebanon's Western-backed March 14 opposition coalition, which includes a radical Islamist component, backs the Syrian rebels. Syria’s conflict entered its third year on Friday.

The government-led March 8 coalition, which includes Hezbollah, stands by the Syrian government.

(AFP)

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