- The Washington Times - Friday, September 1, 2006

DAMASCUS, Syria — U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said yesterday that Syria has pledged to step up border patrols and work with the Lebanese army to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah.

Mr. Annan also said that he had asked Syrian President Bashar Assad to use his nation’s influence to help win the release of three Israeli soldiers held by Lebanese and Palestinian militants allied with Damascus.

Mr. Annan said Mr. Assad promised at a meeting in Damascus that Syria will boost the number of its guards along the Lebanon-Syria border and establish joint patrols with the Lebanese army “where possible.”

Israel has insisted that the international force be stationed along the Syrian border, although Mr. Assad has warned that such a presence would be considered hostile.

Mr. Annan said Mr. Assad restated “Syria’s objection to the presence of foreign forces along the Lebanese-Syrian borders.”

The U.N. chief spoke with reporters at the Damascus airport before departing for Qatar. Mr. Assad made no public comments after the meeting.

The Aug. 11 resolution that halted fighting between Israel and Hezbollah calls on countries to prevent the sale or supply of weapons to entities in Lebanon without the consent of the Lebanese government or U.N. peacekeepers. It also calls for Lebanon to “secure its borders and other entry points.”

Syria promised to “undertake as soon as possible” measures to increase its number of border guards and give them additional training and equipment, Mr. Annan said. Syria also will establish liaisons with the Lebanese armed forces, border police and international personnel “in order to set up an effective interdiction regime,” the secretary-general added.

Asked whether such measures would succeed in blocking arms shipments to Hezbollah, Mr. Annan replied: “I think it can happen. It may not be 100 percent, but it will make quite a lot of difference if the government puts in place the measures [it] has discussed with me.”

Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, questioned whether Syria could provide a reliable force, saying the country helped finance and arm Hezbollah during the recent conflict.

Mr. Annan has said the expanded U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) would not disarm Hezbollah. He called the issue a matter for the Lebanese to decide.

The first contingent of 880 Italian troops will land in Lebanon today to join 2,300 UNIFIL peacekeepers already policing the fragile truce between Israel and Hezbollah, the Reuters news agency reported.

The Spanish government said yesterday it planned to send 1,100 troops to Lebanon. France, Belgium and Poland also are offering troops to the U.N. force.

Germany is considering sending up to 2,000 troops, mainly navy personnel, to join the U.N. mission, press reports said.

Meanwhile, a U.N. official in New York said Israel has dropped its objections to Indonesia’s contribution to the U.N. force, and the two sides are discussing when Jakarta would send a promised 1,000 troops.

Israel had objected to participation on the force by the world’s largest Muslim nation because it does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

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