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Monday, October 02, 2006

Syria shifts troops to Lebanon border

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP)- Syria's president said in remarks released Sunday that he has increased the number of troops on the border with Lebanon, a move apparently aimed to appease international demands to bolster security following the
Israel-Hezbollah war.

But the troop movement was still likely to draw criticism from the U.S. and Iraqi governments, as President Bashar Assad said Syria shifted forces away from its eastern border with
Iraq to fortify its frontier with Lebanon.

The U.S. and Iraq have long accused Syria of not doing enough to stop insurgents crossing into Iraq to fight U.S. troops. Syria denies the allegation, saying it is impossible to fully control the long desert border it shares with Iraq.

"We have strengthened the border with Lebanon, but of course, this made us move parts of our forces guarding the border with Iraq to the border with Lebanon," Assad said in an interview with Spain's El Pais newspaper that was released Sunday by Syria's state-run SANA news agency.

After the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel that ended on Aug. 14, the Jewish state said it wanted international troops to deploy on the Lebanon-Syrian border to enforce a halt in weapons shipments. Hezbollah is widely believed to have received weapons and other support from its backers, Syria and

But Syria strongly rejected the idea, warning it would close the border with Lebanon. Instead, U.N. Secretary-General
Kofi Annan said during his recent trip to the Middle East that Assad had assured him Damascus was prepared to delineate its border with Lebanon and increase the number of forces there. It said it would also provide the troops with training and supplies.

Assad said other nations "should have faith in Syria" over controlling its borders.

"If there is a real desire to smuggle (weapons), neither (U.N.) Security Council resolutions nor surveillance nor the whole armies of the world can prevent this," he said, according to SANA.

In the interview, Assad also said the United States "was not a fair co-sponsor" of the stalled Mideast peace process and called on Europe to take an active role.

"Regrettably there is not another international power that can replace it (the U.S.), and at the same time, the United States should not be alone, and here is where Europe's role comes in," he said.
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