Sleiman discusses Syrian troop movements with Assad

October 7, 2008 - 0:0

President Michel Sleiman contacted his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad on Sunday to further inquire about Damascus' recent deployment of almost 10,000 soldiers along Lebanon's northern border, the state-run National News Agency (NNA) said.

Assad assured Sleiman that the deployment was one of several measures by Syria to counter smuggling, the NNA said, adding that Sleiman relayed Assad's explanation to Defense Minister Elias Murr and the commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), General Jean Kahwaji.
Also on the weekend, visiting U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale held separate meetings with Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea, and former Deputy Speaker Elias Ferzli.
No statements to the media were made following the meeting between Jumblatt and Hale.
However, Geagea said after meeting the U.S. official on Saturday that ""Washington will not tolerate any form of foreign intervention in Lebanese domestic affairs.""
Hale, who was accompanied by U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison, did not make any public statement following the hour-long meeting at Geagea's residence in Maarab.
Geagea told reporters that his talks with Hale focused on the Syrian troop deployment, as well as recent remarks by Assad regarding the situation in North Lebanon. Assad said in the aftermath of bombings in Damascus and Tripoli late last month that North Lebanon had become a base for terrorism, posing a threat to Syria's security.
At least 17 people were killed by a car-bombing in Damascus on September 27. Two days later, a similar blast targeting Lebanese troops killed seven people and wounded 33 others in Tripoli.
Future Movement leader MP Saad Hariri lashed out at Assad after the Tripoli bombing, accusing him of trying to insinuate that Lebanon, the North in particular, was responsible for the apparently deteriorating security situation in Syria.
Ferzli said after meeting Hale and Sison on Sunday that the ""new U.S. policy toward Lebanon would consider the different opinions and views of rival Lebanese parties.""
He added that the United States was reconsidering its policies in the region.
""The U.S. is reviewing its policies in Lebanon and the Middle East ... This could be seen through U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's meeting with her Syrian counterpart Walid Moallem in New York last month,"" he said. ""A change can also be seen through France and Europe's recent openness toward Damascus.""
Ferzli also said that Hale had supported a U.S. policy of providing weapons and equipment to the LAF. ""The Lebanese Army should be well equipped to face Israeli threats no matter how much time the equipment process would take,"" he added.
In a related development, Loyalty to the Resistance MP Hussein Hajj Hassan said that the United States' ""reluctance"" to upgrade the capabilities of the LAF was not related to the issue of Hezbullah's arsenal.
""Even before the existence of Hezbullah, the U.S. was against the equipping of the Lebanese as well as other Arab armies in order to guarantee that Israel would always have an upper hand in the region,"" he noted.