UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The reported participation of Lebanese fighters on both sides of the escalating Syrian conflict violates the country’s policy of not interfering in Syria’s civil war and creates risks for Lebanon, the U.N. political affairs chief said on Wednesday.
The remarks from U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman came in a bleak assessment of the situation in Syria, in which he said that “if nothing is done to change the current dynamic, and to move toward a political solution, the destruction of Syria will be the likely outcome.”
Feltman’s report to the 15-nation Security Council came after the United Nations appealed for $1.5 billion to provide life-saving aid to millions of Syrians suffering in a “dramatically deteriorating” humanitarian situation in a conflict that has killed over 40,000 people.
“The situation in Lebanon remains severely affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria,” Feltman said at a council meeting on the Middle East. “Cross-border shelling and arms smuggling continue.”
“Multiple reports suggest there are Lebanese implicated in Syria’s violence, both on the side of the Assad regime and the opposition,” he said. “This violates the Lebanese government’s ‘disassociation’ policy and puts Lebanon increasingly at risk.”
U.N. officials say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad continues to exercise his country’s historic influence in Lebanon, despite the 2005 departure of thousands of Syrian troops and intelligence operatives from Lebanese soil. Many in north Lebanon say their army takes orders from Damascus.
Lebanese authorities and security institutions have a long history of collaboration with and domination by Damascus. Lebanon is deeply divided over the conflict.
The United Nations has repeatedly said that Syria’s 21-month-long conflict has the potential to severely destabilize Lebanon, a tiny country still recovering from its own 15-year civil war, which ended in 1990. Recent months have seen clashes between supporters of the rebels and opponents of the uprising.
Lebanon’s former prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, son of slain statesman Rafik al-Hariri, has openly criticized the Lebanese government’s disassociation policy.
Hariri, whose Lebanese unity government was toppled in January last year when pro-Assad parties pulled out of the Cabinet, has been an active opponent of the Syrian president since Syria’s uprising erupted 20 months ago.
Last week Syria said it issued arrest warrants against al-Hariri and a close political ally for “terrorist crimes” of financing and arming rebels fighting to oust Assad.
Separately, the council unanimously adopted a resolution extending for six months a U.N. peacekeeping mission in a demilitarized zone between Syria and Israel, which warned that border tensions could escalate with Syria’s civil war.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Wednesday the crisis should be resolved through political dialogue and that “both parties must realize there is no military solution.”
U.N. diplomats and officials, however, say privately that it may be too late for a negotiated solution in a conflict that looks increasingly deadlocked.
Ban welcomed recent efforts by the Syrian opposition to overcome its divisions. “I am deeply concerned about the increased militarization of the conflict and the potential for sectarian atrocities,” he told reporters.
U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has failed to get Russia and the United States to overcome their differences on Syria that have prevented the Security Council from taking any meaningful action in the conflict.
Syria’s staunch ally and arms supplier Russia, supported by China, has vetoed three Security Council resolutions condemning Assad and opposes the idea of sanctioning Assad’s government.
Editing by Doina Chiacu