Lebanon News

U.S. blames Syria for violence spillover into Lebanon

Burns briefs reporters at Rafik Hariri International Airport prior to his departure. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Azakir)

BEIRUT: The United States is concerned that violence sponsored by the Syrian regime is reaching Lebanon, according to Deputy Secretary William Burns, who also said Damascus must respect its neighbor’s sovereignty.

“The United States remains concerned that the Syrian regime’s use of violence against its own people is contributing to instability in Lebanon, and we stress again the responsibility of the Syrian regime to respect Lebanon’s sovereignty,” in line with U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701, Burns said.

Speaking at a news conference at the end of a two-day visit to Lebanon, Burns also praised efforts to “maintain calm in Lebanon amid the challenges of a changing Middle East” and said that the international community must act urgently and decisively to halt the violence in Syria.

Burns, on a regional tour which has included Palestine and Israel, also welcomed Lebanon’s payment of its 2012 contribution to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is investigating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Lebanon’s 49 percent of the funding of the STL, amounting this year to $33 million, was paid Wednesday, but politicians from both March 8 and March 14 coalitions have criticized the manner in which the funds were transferred without any Cabinet decision.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not explicitly signaled where the money came from, although initial reports indicated it had been paid by reserve from premiership funds. Last year’s share was donated by Lebanese banks.

The work of the Tribunal, which is based in the Netherlands, “is a chance for Lebanon to move beyond its long history of impunity for political violence,” Burns said Friday.

According to the U.S. Embassy, Burns earlier held separate meetings with Speaker Nabih Berri, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi with whom he discussed the political and security situation in Lebanon, developments in Syria and regional issues. He visited Mikati at the Grand Serail Thursday evening.

In the meetings, Burns conveyed “our appreciation for the efforts made by the Lebanese government and political leaders, as well as the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces, to work together to maintain calm in Lebanon amid the challenges of a changing Middle East.”

He also said that the U.S. would continue to support Lebanon to “help ensure a peaceful and stable future for the Lebanese people.” The Lebanese Army began deploying troops Friday along the northern border with Syria after Cabinet approved a plan Monday to boost their presence there following Syrian shelling last weekend which killed two.

In the embassy statement, Burns also stressed “the importance of protecting all displaced Syrians, including dissenters and deserters who have rejected violence, in keeping with Lebanon’s humanitarian obligations.”

The government’s HRC announced Tuesday that it had suspended all medical and other aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon due to a lack of funds. The U.N. says there are around 30,000 displaced Syrians in the country, but activists, and the head of the HRC, Ibrahim Bashir, say the figure is closer to 60,000.

In terms of the crisis in Syria, Burns said the reports Thursday of a massacre in the village of Tremseh, in the governorate of Hama, “are yet another horrific reminder of the urgent need for the international community to act decisively.”

Activists said Friday that around 220 people were thought to have been killed in the massacre. Around 17,000 have been killed since the violence began in Syria last march.

A new U.N. Security Council resolution was now necessary, Burns added, which “carries consequences for the Syrian regime’s continuing and increasingly violent non-compliance with its obligations.”

“It is long past time to begin a democratic transition to a post-[Syrian President Bashar] Assad Syria, to a future that reflects the legitimate aspirations of the brave and determined Syrian people,” Burns said.

“It’s extremely important that the international community speaks with one voice because the Assad regime has an unbroken record of broken promises and broken commitments and it’s only through a unified message and actions ... that we’re going to see any change in the situation,” he added.

Russia and China have previously defended Syria at the U.N. Security Council in the drafting of resolutions designed to pressure Assad and his regime.

Before flying to Beirut, in a joint statement from Burns and Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon Thursday in Jerusalem, the two parties agreed that the ongoing bloodshed in Syria, “assisted by Iran and Hezbollah, is a source of major humanitarian concern” and “could also lead to severe consequences for the entire region.”

Burns has not elaborated on the evidence behind this claim. Hezbollah has denied the presence of party members fighting alongside Syrian military forces.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 14, 2012, on page 1.

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