UN council troubled over Lebanon arms

( AP ) - The U.N. Security Council expressed "grave concern" Friday at reports of arms smuggling to Lebanon, but dropped a direct call to Syria and Iran to enforce a U.N. arms embargo.

Instead, the presidential statement agreed by all 15 members and read at an open council meeting underscored the obligation of all countries, "in particular in the region," to ensure that the arms embargo is not violated.

The council also expressed concern at allegations that Lebanese and other groups and militias are rearming, and voiced "deep concern" about recent statements by Hezbollah "that it retains the military capacity to strike all parts of Israel."

The council watered down that as well to get support from Qatar, its only Arab member. It deleted a reference to Hezbollah's secretary-general and a phrase calling the Hezbollah statement "a blatant violation of Security Council resolutions."

The presidential statement was a response to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's report to the Security Council in June on implementation of the resolution that ended last summer's 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. Ban said "disturbing reports" from the Lebanese and Israeli governments of alleged arms embargo violations "constitute a major impediment to the establishment of a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution" that would bring peace to Lebanon.

The council statement followed a June report by a U.N.-appointed team that said insufficient security along the Lebanon-Syria border allowed arms smuggling, and that Lebanon should quickly establish a mobile force to intercept weapons.

The council welcomed the team's recommendations. It underlined the shared responsibility of Syria and Lebanon for controlling the border, noted Syria's statement that it has taken action, and called "for enhanced cross-border cooperation to secure the Syrian-Lebanese border."

Syria's U.N. Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari, asked how his government would secure the border, said 12 high-level meetings had been held with Lebanon since last summer to discuss border issues.

"Any issue related to the border between any two states is a bilateral issue," he said. "I wouldn't see Syria putting its nose in demarcating the lines between Canada and the United States."

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the expression of "grave concern" at reports of arms embargo breaches sends "a strong message that Syria needs to do more ... to stop arms shipments into Lebanon."

The presidential statement was adopted a day after President Bush announced that the U.S. will freeze the property and interests of anyone undermining Lebanon's democratic government. In June, the U.S. barred entry to anyone undermining Lebanon's stability.

Lebanon's U.N. Ambassador Nawaf Salam welcomed the "positive points" in the statement.

The presidential statement expressed "deep concern at the increase in Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and appeals to all parties concerned to respect the cessation of hostilities and the blue line in its entirety."

It also expressed "deep concern" that Hezbollah has not returned the two Israeli soldiers it abducted, which sparked last summer's war, or provided proof of life - and it encourages efforts "to urgently settle the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel."

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