U.N. chief warns that arms smuggling could threaten Israel-Hezbollah truce
Mar 31, 2007 at 10:54 AM
BEIRUT, Lebanon - The U.N. chief said Saturday that arms are reportedly still being smuggled over the border from Syria to Lebanon, and he urged all sides to fully comply with a United Nations resolution that ended the summer war between Hezbollah militants and Israel.
The leading Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported Saturday that U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Lebanese security chiefs that Israel had provided him with "evidence and pictures" of trucks crossing from Syria to Lebanon and unloading weapons.
"There are intelligence reports that arms are smuggled. I am concerned by that kind of arms smuggling, which will destabilize the situation in Lebanon," he told reporters later during a stop at the headquarters of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon.
The U.N. resolution that halted 34 days of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel calls among other things for a stop in arms shipments to Hezbollah guerrillas and demands the "unconditional release" of two Israeli soldiers the militants captured, triggering the conflict.
Ban met Friday with Lebanese security chiefs during his two-day visit to Lebanon to discuss ways of enhancing the Lebanese army's monitoring capabilities along border with Syria, one of Hezbollah's principal patrons.
He urged all sides to obey the U.N.-brokered cease-fire and expressed the need for "an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity."
Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz told Ban during a stop in Israel last weekend that the cease-fire in southern Lebanon is endangered by Hezbollah militants. He accused the Iranian- and Syrian-backed guerrillas of continuing to receive arms shipments from Syria.
Lebanese leaders have rejected Israeli claims that weapon smuggling continues.
Pro-Western Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora said at a news conference with Ban on Friday that the Lebanese government was trying to improve its monitoring capabilities but stressed that "not one single case of arms smuggling across the border" with Syria has been recorded. His defense minister, Elias Murr, recently said that not a "single mosquito" is getting across the border, adding that Hezbollah did not need to resupply. On Friday, the defense minister again dismissed reports of arms smuggling through Syria as "not true."
But Hezbollah has boasted that it replenished its stockpile of rockets after the war.
Israeli warplanes continue to fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon, although Beirut and the U.N. consider them a violation of the cease-fire.