Patrick Galey
The Daily Star
April 21, 2010 - 12:00am

The continued presence of Palestinian armed factions in Lebanon constitutes a serious threat to national and regional security, according to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

The alleged transfer of Syria-exported Scud missiles to Hizbullah is also a major cause of international concern, the UN chief said.

In his latest interim report on the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1559, seen by The Daily Star on Tuesday, Ban encouraged Lebanese leaders to exert pressure on groups possessing arms outside of state power.

“The existence of armed groups outside government control is a fundamental anomaly that stands against the democratic aspirations of Lebanon and threatens domestic peace,” the UN chief said. “It is also an obstacle to the prosperity and welfare that the Lebanese people deserve.”

Earlier this month fighting broke out between members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) in the eastern Bekaa Valley. This followed clashes between Fatah al-Islam partisans in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian Refugee camp in March.

Ban issued a strong rebuke to such incidents.

“I remain deeply concerned at the maintenance of paramilitary infrastructures by Palestinian militias outside the camps which pose a threat to the stability of Lebanon,” he said.

Ban also indirectly addressed recent allegations from Washington and Tel Aviv that Hizbullah was receiving long-range scud missiles – capable of striking any target in Israel – across Lebanon’s mountainous border with Syria.

“I continue to receive reports asserting that Hizbullah has substantially upgraded and expanded its arsenal and military capabilities, including sophisticated long-range weaponry,” he said in reference to comments made last week by Israeli President Shimon Peres and White House Spokesperson Robert Gibbs.

The UN head added that although he had received several reports from member states about weapons-transfer activity “across the land borders,” the UN “does not have the means to independently verify” such information.

“I am concerned that such activities have the potential to destabilize the country and could lead to another conflict,” Ban said.

Resolution 1559 was drawn up in 2004 and stipulates that Lebanon’s sovereign territory be respected. Since its inception, several clauses have been implemented, including the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanese soil after three decades of military tutelage. In spite of such progress, “the situation remains fragile,” Ban said.

He asked that both Lebanese and Syrian governments redouble efforts to demarcate their shared border in order to better patrol the flow of goods leaving and entering over the Anti-Lebanon Mountains.

“The government of Lebanon can extend its authority throughout the country only if it, and all other relevant parties, know what the entirety of the territory of Lebanon is,” Ban said.

The UN chief praised the recent resumption of the National Dialogue sessions, designed to establish a coherent and united defense strategy. Ban called the sessions “the best forum to address the disarmament of armed groups in the country through an inclusive domestic political process.”

The sessions have been marred by disagreement and were postponed again for several weeks following their reconvention last week. The main source of antagonism is that of Hizbullah’s arms, with politicians split over their legitimacy to remain as part of Lebanon’s resistance against Israel.

Ban said this dispute “has generated tension and worsened the political climate, in the wider context of an escalation of rhetoric at the regional level.”

He reminded Lebanon that the issue of Palestinian weapons outside its camps had been raised in the 2006 dialogue sessions, when leaders had agreed to bring various factions under control.

Turning to the situation within Palestinian camps in Lebanon, Ban urged the government to improve living standards, linking poor conditions to lawlessness in some cases.

“There needs to be further progress toward improving the conditions in which Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon,” the UN secretary general said.

“The refugee camps continue to provide a safe haven for those who seek to escape the state’s authority, such as militants, extremists, criminals and arms smugglers, in addition to Palestinian armed factions across all party lines.”

Ban praised Premier Saad Hariri’s visit late last year to Syria for injecting “positive momentum into Lebanon’s political scene.” One of 1559’s requirements was the establishment of full diplomatic ties between Beirut and Damascus.

He criticized Israeli over flights, which persist over large areas of Lebanese airspace on a near-daily basis, condemning them for breaking international law.


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