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BEIRUT/brussels: Syria has warned it may strike at rebels hiding in neighbouring Lebanon if the Lebanese army does not act, the state news agency Sana said yesterday.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry told its Lebanese counterpart that a “large number” of militants had crossed Lebanon’s northern border into the Syrian town of Tel Kalakh over the past two days, Sana said.
“Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty,” the diplomatic cable said.
It said Syria’s “patience is not unlimited”, even though “Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory.”
Fighting near the border resulted in a large number of casualties, Sana said, before the gunmen retreated into Lebanon.
Lebanon has a policy of “dissociation” from the two-year civil war in Syria but officials say they feel their country is increasingly at risk of being dragged into a conflict that the United Nations says has killed 70,000 Syrians.
UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres said yesterday that the Syrian conflict threatens Lebanon’s existence.
“The international community should recognise that the Syrian crisis represents an existential threat to Lebanon and should show Lebanon ... much stronger support than has happened until now,” he told reporters in Beirut.
France and Britain will urge European Union governments to lift an embargo on supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition, President Francois Hollande said on Thursday, warning that France could go it alone if no EU agreement is reached.
More than one million Syrians are believed to have taken shelter in Lebanon. They live among a nation of 4 million, which fought its own devastating 1975-1990 civil war and whose own sectarian tensions between Christians, Sunni and Shias have been heightened by the fighting in Syria.
Meanwhile, European Union governments yesterday rejected Franco-British efforts to lift an EU arms embargo to allow weapons supplies to Syrian rebels, saying this could spark an arms race and worsen regional instability. France and Britain found little support for their proposal at an EU summit in Brussels, diplomats said, but EU foreign ministers will consider the issue again next week. French President Francois Hollande, backed by British Prime Minister David Cameron, pressed for the embargo to be lifted, saying Europe could not allow the Syrian people to be massacred.
Western nations have mostly stood on the sidelines as 70,000 Syrians have been killed, according to a UN estimate, during a two-year-old revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a leading opponent of lifting the arms embargo, said there was a danger that Assad’s allies Russia and Iran could step up arms supplies to his government if the 27-nation EU lifted its restrictions.
Pressed by the two major EU powers to help tip the balance in the conflict by arming the ill-equipped rebels fighting Assad, leaders of the 27-nation bloc agreed to discuss the issue again next week, but there was little sign of a deal in the offing.Agencies