Friday, October 31, 2008

Syria deploys more troops along Lebanese border

Lebanon says military move designed to limit smuggling, prevent illegal migration following talks between army chiefs on both sides

Syria will deploy more troops along its border with Lebanon in an effort to stop smuggling, the Lebanese army said on Thursday.

The deployment along Syria's side of Lebanon's eastern border follows the stationing of hundreds of Syrian troops on Lebanon's borders in the north – a region where Damascus has warned of a threat from Islamist radicals. Lebanese army chief Jean Kahwaji and his Syrian counterpart Ali Habib discussed the deployment of Syrian army units "along the length of the eastern border in the coming few days", the Lebanese army said in a statement. It did not say how many troops would deploy.

The Syrian army had completed its deployment on its own side of Lebanon's northern border, the statement said, adding that the two commanders had discussed the new steps in a phone call.

"This deployment comes in the framework of measures to stop smuggling and prevent the movement of people illegally across the borders", the statement said. Witnesses in Lebanon said Syrian troops had already started to deploy.

Syria's deployment in the north was a cause for concern among anti-Syrian Lebanese politicians, who feared that Damascus might be planning to intervene in its smaller neighbor.

Syria controlled politics and security in Lebanon until 2005 when the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri triggered international pressure that forced it to end its 29-year military presence in the country.

Northern Lebanon has been the scene of a series of recent attacks on the Lebanese army. The public prosecutor this week accused 34 Islamists, including Lebanese, Saudis, Syrians and Palestinians of carrying out the deadly bombings.

Syria has said a vehicle used in a suicide attack in Damascus last month had crossed into the country from an Arab neighbor. It has not said which country.

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