19 July 2007

US: arms smuggling to Lebanon proven

By MARJORIE OLSTER, Associated Press Writer Wed Jul 18, 10:40 PM ET

UNITED NATIONS - The United States said Wednesday there was clear evidence of arms smuggling across the Syrian border to terrorist groups in Lebanon, and accused Iran and Syria of playing a negative role in the country.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad made the accusation after a closed Security Council meeting to discuss progress on a U.N. resolution that ended last summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas backed by Syria and Iran. That resolution banned weapon transfers to Hezbollah.

Khalilzad said the United States had sent a clear message in the meeting on "the negative role that Syria and Iran are playing and called on them to cease and desist from their negative activities" in Lebanon.

He added that there was clear evidence of "arms transfers to terrorist groups" inside Lebanon, including Hezbollah, the Palestinian extremist group PFLP-GC and Fatah Islam, the al-Qaida-inspired militant group that has been fighting the Lebanese army for the past two months.

Khalilzad was referring to a report by a U.N.-appointed team that assessed the border late last month and concluded that security was too lax to prevent arms smuggling.

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari dismissed allegations that arms were being smuggled across his country's border with Lebanon.

"We denied it many times and we are still denying it," he told reporters after the meeting.

Ja'afari claimed the information about arms smuggling provided to the Security Council came only from Israeli intelligence and none of it was from Lebanese authorities.

However, U.N. Mideast envoy Michael Williams said "virtually all" of the arms smuggling documented in the secretary-general's report to the Security Council last month came from the Lebanese government or Lebanese security agencies.

"I think the situation is very serious," he told reporters.

In the report last month, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged Syria and Iran to do more to prevent arms smuggling into Lebanon, citing Lebanese and Israeli government allegations of violations of the arms embargo.

Ban said Lebanon informed him that on June 6, four trucks were seen by Lebanese armed forces traveling from Syria to Lebanon. Each truck carried two vehicles mounted with 40-barrel rocket launchers, he said.

Syria dominated Lebanon for nearly three decades. But in 2005, it was forced to withdraw tens of thousands of troops from its neighbor amid an uproar over allegations that Damascus played a role in the assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri. Syria denied it.(Yahoo/AP)

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Lebanon Time-Line

Introducing Lebanon

Coolly combining the ancient with the ultramodern, Lebanon is one of the most captivating countries in the Middle East. From the Phoenician findings of Tyre (Sour) and Roman Baalbek's tremendous temple to Beirut's BO18 and Bernard Khoury's modern movement, the span of Lebanon's history leaves many visitors spinning. Tripoli (Trablous) is considered to have the best souk in the country and is famous for its Mamluk architecture. It's well equipped with a taste of modernity as well; Jounieh, formerly a sleepy fishing village, is a town alive with nightclubs and glitz on summer weekends.

With all of the Middle East's best bits - warm and welcoming people, mind-blowing history and considerable culture, Lebanon is also the antithesis of many people's imaginings of the Middle East: mostly mountainous with skiing to boot, it's also laid-back, liberal and fun. While Beirut is fast becoming the region's party place, Lebanon is working hard to recapture its crown as the 'Paris of the Orient'.

The rejuvenation of the Beirut Central District is one of the largest, most ambitious urban redevelopment projects ever undertaken. Travellers will find the excitement surrounding this and other developments and designs palpable - and very infectious.

Finally, Lebanon's cuisine is considered the richest of the region. From hummus to hommard (lobster), you'll dine like a king. With legendary sights, hospitality, food and nightlife, what more could a traveller want?

Introducing Beirut

What Beirut is depends entirely on where you are. If you’re gazing at the beautifully reconstructed colonial relics and mosques of central Beirut’s Downtown, the city is a triumph of rejuvenation over disaster.

If you’re in the young, vibrant neighbourhoods of Gemmayzeh or Achrafiye, Beirut is about living for the moment: partying, eating and drinking as if there’s no tomorrow. If you’re standing in the shadow of buildings still peppered with bullet holes, or walking the Green Line with an elderly resident, it’s a city of bitter memories and a dark past. If you’re with Beirut’s Armenians, Beirut is about salvation; if you’re with its handful of Jews, it’s about hiding your true identity. Here you’ll find the freest gay scene in the Arab Middle East, yet homosexuality is still illegal. If you’re in one of Beirut’s southern refugee camps, Beirut is about sorrow and displacement; other southern districts are considered a base for paramilitary operations and south Beirut is home to infamous Hezbollah secretary general, Hassan Nasrallah. For some, it’s a city of fear; for others, freedom.

Throw in maniacal drivers, air pollution from old, smoking Mercedes taxis, world-class universities, bars to rival Soho and coffee thicker than mud, political demonstrations, and swimming pools awash with more silicone than Miami. Add people so friendly you’ll swear it can’t be true, a political situation existing on a knife-edge, internationally renowned museums and gallery openings that continue in the face of explosions, assassinations and power cuts, and you’ll find that you’ve never experienced a capital city quite so alive and kicking – despite its frequent volatility.