|UN warning came days after a controversial visit to Lebanon by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president [Reuters]
Lebanon has been hit by a new climate of "uncertainty" that could cause new instability across the region, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary-general, has warned.
In a report released on Monday, days after a controversial visit to Lebanon by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's president, the UN chief called on regional powers to stay out of the country's affairs and urged Israel to halt military overflights.
"I am very concerned by rising political tensions in the country," Ban said, referring to a growing war of words between Saad al-Hariri, the Lebanese prime minister, his coalition and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group.
"The combination of mistrust between the parties and the continued presence of militias could lead to tensions and possible insecurity and instability in Lebanon and beyond.
"The country should not be used as a staging ground to further regional aspirations or to promote conflict," he said in a report on Lebanon to the UN Security Council.
During a security council debate, Mohammad Khazaee, Iran's UN ambassador, said the "unprecedented" reception given to Ahmadinejad in Lebanon showed the "constructive role that the Islamic Republic of Iran plays in the region in general and in Lebanon in particular".
|Iran's UN ambassador said there needs to be recognition of Iran's 'powerful role' in the region [Reuters]
He said the Security Council and the secretary-general should recognise the "powerful role" that Iran plays.
Ban has repeatedly expressed concern over the tense political events in Lebanon and its delicate relations with neighbouring Syria. But he has also made repeated calls for Hezbollah to follow the example of other groups and disarm.
Hezbollah's arsenal "remains distinct from and may exceed the capabilities of the Lebanese Armed Forces," according to the report.
Ban said Hezbollah's military strength "creates an atmosphere of intimidation and poses a key challenge to the safety of Lebanese civilians and to the government's monopoly on the legitimate use of force".
Israel has kept control of part of the south Lebanon village of Ghajar since its military campaign in 2006, but Ban said Israel should withdraw and end its regular military flights over south Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the US, Britain and France have warned against interference with a UN tribunal investigating the 2005 murder of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafiq al-Hariri.
"Efforts to discredit, hinder or delay the tribunal's work should not be tolerated"
US deputy ambassador
Monday's warning during a UN Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis came after Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, reportedly raised his concerns about the tribunal with Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh.
Brooke Anderson, the US deputy ambassador to the UN, told council members about Washington's full support for Ban's determination to press ahead with the tribunal, despite fears of violence.
"Efforts to discredit, hinder or delay the tribunal's work should not be tolerated, and those who engage in them do not have the interests of Lebanon or justice at heart," Anderson told the 15-nation council.
Mark Lyall Grant, the British ambassador, echoed Anderson's comments.
"We are concerned about increasing rhetoric aimed at undermining the special tribunal for Lebanon," he said. "This tribunal should be allowed to continue its work unimpeded."
Gerard Araud, the French ambassador, made similar remarks, saying Paris was "concerned by the present tensions, in particular with respect to the special tribunal for Lebanon".
Vitaly Churkin, the Russian envoy, said there should be "no politicisation" of the tribunal's work.
A council diplomat told the Reuters news agency, on condition of anonymity, that the comments were clearly aimed at both Syria and Hezbollah.
Fears of violence
Hezbollah, part of Lebanon's national unity government, has denounced the UN-backed court as a tool of US and Israeli policy and called on current prime minister Saad al-Hariri, Rafiq's son, to repudiate the tribunal.
Syria, initially implicated by UN investigators in the bombing that killed al-Hariri, has always viewed the tribunal as politically motivated. Syrian officials say any indictments of Hezbollah would be considered to be targeting Syria too.
Syria has denied involvement in al-Hariri's assassination but was forced to end its three-decade military presence in Lebanon following an international outcry.
Fears of violence have intensified since rumors of the impending indictments began to circulate.
Suleiman Franjieh, a pro-Syrian politician, warned last month of sectarian war in Lebanon if the tribunal indicted Hezbollah members.
It was the Lebanese government that originally requested the establishment of the UN court and agreed to pay almost half its costs. However, political winds have shifted in Beirut.
Al-Hariri has mended relations with Damascus, saying in what appears to be a turn around that he was wrong to accuse Syria of killing his father and that accusations against Damascus had been politically motivated.