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Syria

Syria threatens Lebanon over rebel sanctuaries

Damascus has warned Beirut that it will not tolerate Syrian rebels taking refuge in Lebanon. Meanwhile, EU leaders have agreed to review the 27-member bloc’s blanket arms embargo against Syria.

The Syrian foreign ministry called on Lebanon to expel anti-Assad rebel groups from its territory, the state news agency SANA said on Friday, as the civil war in Syria marked its second anniversary.

“Syria expects the Lebanese side to prevent these armed terrorist groups from using the borders as a crossing point, because they target Syrian people and are violating Syrian sovereignty,” the foreign ministry said in a diplomatic cable sent to Beirut on Thursday.

The Syrian foreign ministry told the Lebanese government that “Syrian forces have so far exercised restraint from striking at armed gangs inside Lebanese territory.” But Damascus warned Beirut that its “patience is not unlimited.”

‘Risk of an explosion'

According to SANA, anti-Assad insurgents have retreated into Lebanon after clashes with government forces near the border. UN refugee agency chief Antonio Guterres warned on Friday that the civil war in Syria jeopardized stability in neighboring Lebanon, where more than 1 million Syrians have taken refuge.

“The international community should recognize that the Syrian crisis represents an existential threat to Lebanon and should show Lebanon…much stronger support than has happened until now,” Guterres told reporters in Beirut.

"I believe that if the Syrian conflict goes on and on and on, there is a real risk of an explosion in the Middle East, and then there will be no way to cope with the challenge from the humanitarian, political and security perspective," Guterres said.

EU to review arms embargo

In Brussels, EU leaders agreed to review their arms embargo against Syria at a meeting in Dublin on March 22-23. The embargo applies to both the Assad regime and the rebels.

“We agreed to ask our foreign ministers to assess the situation as a matter of priority, already at their informal meeting next week in Dublin, and to develop common positions,” said European Council President Herman Van Rompuy in Brussels on Friday.

France and the United Kingdom have called for the embargo to be lifted for anti-Assad opposition groups. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that Paris could pull out of the arms embargo and send weapons to the rebels if the EU was unwilling to change its policy.

But several other EU member states have expressed opposition to the British and French demands. Austrian Chancellor Werner Fayman warned on Friday that delivering arms to Syria would only escalate the situation.

“I think, in a situation in which you deliver weapons, you can't reach a solution,” Fayman said. “It generally only causes others, on the other side, to deliver more weapons.”

slk/hc (AP, dpa, Reuters)