Lebanon eases stand-off over bases

Lebanon has eased away from a looming confrontation over pro-Syrian Palestinian fighter bases that the army has surrounded.

    Siniora pledged to use dialogue and not confrontation

    Prime Minister Fuad Siniora pledged to use talks, not arms, as the Lebanese army on Saturday began rotating its troops surrounding seven Palestinian fighter bases close to the Syrian border.


    "The matter will be resolved through dialogue and not confrontation," Siniora told reporters, but reiterated Beirut's refusal to allow armed Palestinian presence outside the camps.


    "We see no need for the presence of armed Palestinians outside the camps and we will resolve this matter through dialogue with all Palestinian groups," he said, adding that "there is no confrontation on any front."




    The siege by the Lebanese army had begun this past week and was aimed at finding those responsible for gunning down an army surveyor who Lebanese officials said was killed by shots coming from across the Syrian border.


    The Lebanese troop deployment coincided with a UN envoy's charge that the continued presence of armed Palestinian fighters in Lebanon violated a Security Council resolution adopted in September 2004.


    Murr said weapons

    would not be
    used in reaching a solution

    Defence Minister Elias Murr backed up Siniora's pledge to avoid armed conflict.


    "Army weapons will not be used against people inside the country. This is a general principle which equally relates to the political entente we have reached in the cabinet," Murr said after a security meeting.


    Asked about the aim of the troops surrounding the camps, Murr said the army "is there to fight against troublemakers who threaten the country's security. Its weapons will not be used against any party inside the country."


    Fatah pledge


    The representative of the Fatah movement in Lebanon, Sultan Abu al-Aynan, also pledged not to use "Palestinian weapons against Lebanese civilians or soldiers.


    "It is inadmissible that any tensions exist between Lebanese and Palestinians," Aynan told reporters outside one of the camps.


    "Some are trying to sow discord; but we are deploying every effort to avoid it."


    On Thursday, hundreds of soldiers cut off access to two camps operated by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and five by Fatah-Intifada in an effort to gain custody of those suspected of gunning down the army surveyor.


    However, Ahmad Jibril, commander of the PFLP-GC on Friday refused to lay down his arms, as demanded by UN Security Council Resolution 1559.




    On Wednesday, UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen presented a report in New York charging that the continued presence of armed Palestinian fighters in Lebanon violated the resolution.


    The Lebanese army is trying to
    stop arms trafficking

    That text called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops, eventually prompting Syria to end a 29-year military presence in April, as well as the disarmament of all militia groups, Lebanese or Palestinian.


    The Lebanese army had deployed units along the Syrian border in September to contain presumed arms trafficking from Syria to the Palestinian bases in the vaguely demarcated border region.


    Tensions have been rising in recent months between the two neighbours over the February assassination of Lebanon's ex-premier Rafiq al-Hariri.



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