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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Syria, Iran Still Try to Smuggle Arms to Hezbollah

Aug. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Iran and Syria are still trying to smuggle arms to Hezbollah across the Syrian-Lebanese border, an Israeli official said, as United Nations chief Kofi Annan headed for Damascus to bolster the southern Lebanon cease-fire.

Syria and Iran have been attempting to send the Shiite Muslim group Russian-made anti-tank missiles, Syrian and Iranian-made rockets and Iranian rocket-launchers, said Miri Eisin, spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

``The air and naval blockade continues to stop any smuggling attempts but the land route is not sealed,'' she said in a telephone interview. ``Israel continues to stress the centrality of the embargo as an integral part of Resolution 1701 and the necessity to find a way to stop any arms smuggling through the Syrian-Lebanese border.''

The UN Security Council resolution calls for an international force of 15,000 soldiers to police Lebanon's border area with Israel alongside a Lebanese Army contingent of equal size. European Union nations have pledged about 7,000 soldiers to the expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon. The resolution ordered a cease-fire that went into effect Aug. 14.

Israeli forces today transferred the first section of Lebanon's border area to Lebanese and UN troops since the Aug. 14 cease-fire that ended hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the Associated Press said, citing Israel's army. The territory is near the Israeli border town of Metulla, AP reported.

Cluster Bombs

In Jordan, Annan denounced Israel's use of cluster bombs during the fighting and said he asked Israel to give maps locating them, Agence France-Presse said.

``Those kinds of weapons shouldn't be used in civilian and populated areas,'' AFP cited Annan as saying. It's necessary to ``move very quickly to disarm them,'' he said.

Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. and Israel, is refusing to lay down its weapons in defiance of UN Resolution 1559, approved in 2004, which calls for the disarming and disbanding of militias in Lebanon. The group has been blamed for rocket attacks on Israel, bombings in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 U.S. Marines and 58 French soldiers, and an attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people. It denies involvement in the bombings.

As many as 100,000 ``bomblets'' spread by cluster bombs lie unexploded in southern Lebanon, Jan Egeland, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, told reporters in New York yesterday. Most were dropped in the final 72 hours of the fighting, as the cease-fire approached, in a ``completely immoral'' act, he said.

Israeli Statement

The Israeli army spokesman's office said in a faxed statement that ``all weapons and munitions used by the Israel Defense Forces are legal under international law and their use conforms with international standards.''

Israel wants UN soldiers deployed on the Lebanese-Syrian border to stop Hezbollah receiving weapons from Syria and Iran. Israel sees the Syrian border deployment as ``the most reasonable solution'' to enforce an arms embargo, said Eisin, Olmert's spokesman. She said the issue was raised with Annan in Jerusalem yesterday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Aug. 23 that putting international troops along the border with Lebanon would create a ``state of hostility.''

Annan in Syria

Annan today visits Syria, one of the main backers of Hezbollah, after Lebanon, Israel and Jordan. Annan is meeting Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem today and Assad tomorrow, the Israeli daily Haaretz said, citing unidentified officials in Damascus.

Lebanon's neighbors must cooperate on implementing the UN resolution and Israel should lift the blockade it imposed on Lebanon during the conflict, Annan said yesterday.

Olmert, at a news conference in Jerusalem yesterday with Annan, didn't give dates for an Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon or for lifting the blockade.

Annan said today that Israel will pull out of southern Lebanon once the UN force has reached 5,000 soldiers and Lebanon has deployed 16,000.

``We agreed that with 5,000 UN troops and 16,000 Lebanese soldiers who will go down south, it would be a credible force to allow the Israelis to pull out entirely,'' Annan told Europe 1 radio. The UN peacekeeping force should grow to 5,000 soldiers within 10 days from now, Annan told the French station.

Eisin said Israel agreed to withdraw when an ``efficient and effective'' force is in place and did not link its withdrawal to a specific number.

UN Contingents

Germany will provide more than 1,200 naval personnel to back up the UN force, Unifil, a German Defense Ministry spokesman who declined to be identified said today. Germany's Cabinet is scheduled to meet Sept. 4 to give tentative approval to the German contribution.

The UN force will have 4,500 soldiers inside Lebanon by the end of September, French Defense Ministry spokesman Jean- Francois Bureau told reporters in Paris today. A French unit of 900 troops with Leclerc battle tanks, last used in Kosovo in 1999, will arrive in Beirut on Sept. 15, he said. France, which is sending a total of 2,000 troops, is the second biggest EU contributor after Italy, which is sending 2,500.

The conflict began July 12 when Hezbollah abducted two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border attack, prompting Israeli air and ground attacks in Lebanon. Hezbollah fired rockets that struck towns and cities in northern Israel. The fighting killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 159 people in Israel.
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