Thursday, 3 November 2011

Syria cracks down on porous Lebanese border

In an effort to clamp down on safe havens and sources of weapons for the opposition, Syria's government has begun mining its porous border with Lebanon.

Lebanese witnesses living along the border have reported that the Syrian army has been planting the mines in the Wadi Khaled region. The boundary in the area is demarcated only by piles of earth, and many locals have circulated freely to visit relatives and businesses on either side of the border. Crossing the border is now extremely hazardous, and several people have been injured in recent days trying to move between Syria and Lebanon.

This is exactly what the Syrian government wants. As the uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad intensifies, Lebanon has become both a safe haven for dissidents and a source of weapons and money. Syrian forces have already staged a number of small cross-border raids onto Lebanese soil to pursue suspects.

Analysts say that weapons smuggling into Syria has boomed in recent months as the once-peaceful revolt begins to resemble an armed insurgency. Although some of the weapons are destined for renegade soldiers, many are believed to have been purchased by both pro- and anti-government citizens seeking to defend themselves.

The border situation has provoked anger among some Lebanese MPs, who accuse Syria of violating the country's sovereignty (a sensitive issue given the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon until 2005). The divided government in Beirut, however, remains largely pro-Syrian and is coordinating closely with Damascus on cracking down on smugglers. The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has boosted its forces along the eastern border with Syria.

Securing the border will be a difficult task. A retired Lebanese army general told AFP that there are over 50 illegal border crossings and shutting them all down will be extremely difficult. This is particularly true since the border is not demarcated for long stretches, and many villages straddle the two countries.

Sources; Daily Star, AFP

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