By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 25, 2007
NEW YORK, Oct. 24 -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a report Wednesday strongly suggesting that Syria has helped smuggle weapons to the Shiite movement Hezbollah and other armed groups, and that it sponsored Islamic militants involved in a military confrontation with the Lebanese army earlier this year. The report also cites Israeli assertions that Hezbollah has rebuilt its fighting capacity to a level not seen since its 2006 war with Israel.
The 17-page assessment portrays Lebanon as a country facing threats to its survival not only from Syria but also from an array of armed groups linked to Islamic extremists and pro-Syria opposition parties. It says that a series of targeted killings of Lebanese lawmakers, including the September assassination of Antoine Ghanem, is gradually eroding the government's thin majority in the Lebanese parliament.
"The pattern of political assassinations in Lebanon strongly suggests a concerted effort aimed at undermining the democratic institutions of Lebanon," according to the report, which was written by Ban's special envoy on Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen.
The report describes the increasingly precarious state of Lebanon's pro-Western government since Hezbollah parlayed a military standoff with Israel in August 2006 into a grab for greater political power. The document says that the Lebanese armed forces have seized weapons destined for Hezbollah, including the confiscation in June of a truckload of Grad rockets, mortars, and ammunition for automatic rifles and machine guns.
In a letter cited in the report, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora accused Syrian intelligence of channeling arms to Fatah al-Islam, an Islamic militant group that began fighting Lebanese soldiers in May in northern Lebanon. The Lebanese army put down the insurgents in September, after 168 Lebanese soldiers and about 222 militants were killed. Siniora accused Syrian intelligence of using Fatah al-Islam "to serve its political and security objectives in Lebanon."
"While Fatah al-Islam has been curbed, other such groups remain active and may indeed be drawing lessons from the mistakes and failures of Fatah al-Islam," according to the U.N. report. "Information that has been shared with me by other regional member states indicates that the threat from al-Qaida-inspired militias in Palestinian refugee camps remains undiminished."
Syria said that it has doubled the number of border guards to prevent arms smuggling and that its forces have battled with Fatah al-Islam. Syrian officials dismissed Siniora's charges as "lies" and "disinformation." In a veiled reference to the United States, it charged that an unnamed outside power is responsible for destabilizing the country.