SYRIA: 'Hundreds,' not 'thousands,' of troops on Lebanon border
For weeks, Lebanese politicians have been warning that thousands of Syrian troops have amassed on the border of the two countries, perched to possibly invade northern Lebanon.
But a Syrian source close to the government on Wednesday disputed that claim, saying that there were only a few hundred troops deployed to the region, and their purpose was solely to interdict smuggling.
The source, who is close to the government and spoke to the Los Angeles Times, said the reinforcements have "no other intention" than controlling the border.
He described the Lebanese media reports that Syria had deployed "10,000 soldiers" as "strange and exaggerated."
The reports triggered concerns about a possible escalation of tensions between the two countries, especially after bombings in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and the Syrian capital Damascus that left 24 people dead. Syrians hinted that Islamist groups based in Lebanon could have been behind the attacks.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has called northern Lebanon "a real base of terrorism that is a danger to Syria."
But the Syrian source said the bombings and Syria's concerns about Islamic groups in northern Lebanon have nothing to do with the troop deployment. He said Syria had informed Lebanese officials long ago of the reinforcement.
"This measure fits with the need to control the borders which was discussed in the visit of Lebanese president Michel Suleiman to Syria" two months ago, he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. "These measures target controlling the border, the prevention of smuggling and also preventing saboteurs from moving across the border, and is done on Syrian territory and has no other intentions."
He also suggested that the troop movement was likely spotted by U.S. satellite surveillance and passed on to Lebanese.
Lebanon's daily As-Safir newspaper reported Wednesday that Syrian commander that chief in command of the Syrian army Ali Habib notified his Lebanese counterpart 15 days ahead of the deployment.
-- Ziad Haidar in Damascus
Photo: Syrian soldiers are seen near tents they erect as part of their troop reinforcement on the Syrian side along Lebanon's northern border. Credit: Hussein Malla / Associated Press
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