09/23/2008, 00.00
SYRIA – LEBANON
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Syrian troops deployed along border with Lebanon, threat or sign of good will?

Some view the deployment of 10,000 troops as a warning to Lebanese President Suleiman who is currently in the United States. Others see it as a response to European demand for a stop to weapons trafficking and thus represents a shift in Syria’s policies.
Beirut (AsiaNews) – Some 10,000 Syrian Special Forces (see photo) have been deployed along the northern border with Lebanon, said a Lebanese army spokesman, leading to speculation about its meaning. Syrian authorities told their Lebanese counterpart that the build-up was aimed at cracking down on smuggling and other crimes along the border; “the measures were strictly internal and on Syrian territory, and [. . .] were in no way directed against Lebanon,” the army spokesman added.

Despite the reassuring words from Damascus the deployment of Syrian Special Forces has left many asking questions.

Some observers have linked the move to the visit by Lebanese Michel Suleiman to the United States where he met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and is scheduled to meet US President George W. Bush.

According to As Safir, a paper close to the pro-Syrian opposition, Secretary Rice questioned President Suleiman about Hezbollah’s weapons and the national dialogue.

A contrary interpretation comes from a “Western diplomat” quoted by NOW Lebanon who said that the troop deployment indicates a change in Syrian policy, partly because of progress in negotiations with Israel.

Following the quadripartite talks that took place in Damascus last month between Syria, Qatar, France and Turkey, greater Syrian surveillance of its borders is meant to increase control over smuggling, including weapons smuggling. The issue had been raised by the European Union.

In that sense the message to Suleiman is meant to be reassuring to the Americans as well, showing Damascus’ good will.

Indeed others point out that Syrian President Assad had asked his Lebanese counterpart, Suleiman, to send troops to the north in the wake of confessional clashes in Tripoli. 

Al-Mustaqbal newspaper, which is close to Saad Hariri’s majority, suggested instead that the Syrian troop deployment is actually an attempt to cover an operation to dig tunnels to siphon “100 inches of water from the Lebanese side.” (PD)

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