UN confirms arms smuggling between Lebanon, Syria

Ammunition is seen inside one of the three freight containers that were found on the ship Letfallah II after it was intercepted off Lebanon's northern coast and diverted to Selaata port, north of Beirut, in this handout picture released by the Lebanese Army website on 28 April 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Lebanese Army website - Handout)

Published Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The United Nations has information that arms are being smuggled in both directions between Lebanon and Syria, a UN Middle East envoy said Tuesday.

The envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, said the Middle East is seeing a spiraling "dance of death" because of the conflict in Syria as President Bashar Assad confronts opponents.

"Based on information that we have there are reasons to believe that there is a flow of arms both ways, from Lebanon into Syria and from Syria into Lebanon," Roed-Larsen told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council about events in Lebanon.

"We do not have independent observers for this but we are basing our reporting on information which we are receiving from a variety of sources," he added.

Roed-Larsen did not give details, but on April 28, the Lebanese navy intercepted three containers of weapons destined for Syrian rebel forces on a ship which arrived from Libya.

The cargo included heavy machine guns, artillery shells, rockets, rocket launchers, and other explosives, a security official said.

Syrian diplomats allege other ships have been intercepted carrying weapons to Syrian rebels.

Roed-Larsen, the UN special representative on Security Council resolution 1159, passed in 2005 and calling for Syria to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, sees growing dangers in the Middle East.

"What we see across the region is a dance of death at the brink of the abyss of war," he said.

"If you look at the situation in Syria, which is maybe the most likely that might spill over, then in a way it reminds us of the situation in Lebanon and in its neighboring countries in the 1970s. And this is what I fear," said the envoy, a veteran diplomat in the Middle East.

Roed-Larsen said there was complete "uncertainty" over what will happen and that it was vital for the UN Security Council to be ready to take action.

The UN says it has registered more than 24,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon, while activists say there are more than 30,000.

Last chance: Annan

UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said his peace plan could be the last chance to avoid civil war in Syria, where a truce has failed to end 14 months of bloodshed that the UN says has killed over 9,000 people.

Annan told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that the priority in Syria was "to stop the killing," and expressed concern that torture, mass arrests, and other human rights violations were intensifying.

Regime forces "continue to press against the population," despite a putative truce that started on April 12, but attacks are more discreet because of the presence of UN military observers, diplomats quoted him as saying.

"The biggest priority, first of all we need to stop the killing," Annan told reporters in Geneva, adding that his six-point peace plan is "the only remaining chance to stabilize the country."

Annan briefed the council on his efforts to get Assad to implement the plan, which he said was possibly "the last chance to avoid civil war."

He stressed, however, that the peace bid was not an "open-ended" opportunity for Assad, the diplomats who attended the briefing said.

Annan plans to return to Damascus in the coming weeks, his spokesman said Tuesday, though this depended on events on the ground there. It would be only his second visit since his mission began earlier this year.

US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice said Washington's goal was still the removal of Assad, which serves to undermine UN attempts at reconciliation in the country.

"The United States remains focused on increasing the pressure on the Assad regime and on Assad himself to step down," Rice said.

"The situation in Syria remains dire, especially for the millions who continue to endure daily attacks and are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance," she told reporters after Annan's briefing.

Top US officials are to meet delegates from the Syrian Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Washington this week to try to build a "more cohesive opposition" to Assad, a State Department spokesman said.

Annan updated the UN body on the status of his six-point plan, which includes a UN military observer mission, a day after UN chief Ban Ki-moon warned world powers were racing against time to prevent all-out civil war in Syria.

The current 60 or so observers on the ground "have had a calming effect" and the deployment by the end of the month of a 300-strong team would see a "much greater impact," Annan said.

While there had been a decrease in military activities however, there had been "serious violations" of the agreed ceasefire, which included attacks on government troops and facilities, he added.

"The need for human rights abuses to come to an end cannot be underestimated," he stressed.

"This is what the plan is all about."

The United Nations has accused both the Syrian regime and rebels of violating the truce, and China urged all parties to honor their commitments.

"All parties in Syria must abide by their ceasefire commitments, support and cooperate with the work of the UN supervision team, to create the conditions to launch an inclusive political process as soon as possible," Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said during a visit by Gulf-backed opposition Syrian National Council chief Burhan Ghalioun.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged the UN to bolster its observer mission well past the 300 authorized under a Security Council resolution.

"The UN should bolster its mission to Syria with up to 3,000 observers to give a full picture of the situation in the country," Erdogan said.

"We support the Annan plan but if someone were to ask me what my hopes are, I would say I have lost hope."

The International Committee of the Red Cross appealed for 20 million euros (US$26 million) to step up its aid to Syria.

The group has been working alongside the Syrian Arab Red Crescent to bring humanitarian relief to about 1.5 million people affected by the bloodshed.

The ICRC is providing monthly food parcels for about 100,000 people in particular need, president Jakob Kellenberger said.

(AFP, Al-Akhbar)

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