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By Edward Yeranian
31 October 2008
Syria has reportedly deployed more troops along its border with Lebanon, allegedly to "combat smuggling." Meanwhile a Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman is denying reports that Syria has withdrawn troops from its border with Iraq in retaliation for a weekend raid on a Syrian border town which Damascus blames on the United States. Edward Yeranian reports for VOA from Cairo.The Syrian Army has deployed more troops along Lebanon's northern border, according to Lebanese Army sources, amid claims that Damascus is redoubling efforts to "combat smuggling."
Reports that Damascus was beefing up its troop strength along the Lebanese border coincide with unconfirmed reports by the private Syrian Dunia satellite TV network that Syrian border patrol forces were being withdrawn from the notoriously porous border with Iraq. Dunia TV showed pictures of what it claimed were Syrian forces being withdrawn from the Iraqi border.
Dunia TV says that the move comes as a protest for the alleged U.S. raid on the Syrian border town of Sukkariya, over the weekend, which reportedly killed a top al Qaida operative. Washington has not confirmed the raid.
Despite the reports, al Jazeera TV says that Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Boushara Kanafani is denying that Damascus has made any changes to its troop strength or redeployed along the Iraqi border.
Timor Goksel, the former spokesman for United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL), says that he doesn't think that there is any relation between Syrian troop movements along the Lebanese border and possible movements along the Syrian-Iraqi border.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not. There's absolutely no connection with that. No, no. I doubt that very much. I mean…what happened along the Iraqi border is totally something else. I don't think there's any connection," he said. "This is Internal Lebanese-Syria….nothing to do with that."
Goksel adds that he thinks Syria is responding to long-term international pressure to keep better control of its border with Lebanon and that he doubts anyone inside Lebanon or from within the international community will protest the move:
"So, I think the timing is perfect. It is certainly not a threat of any kind to the Lebanese or anything like that," he said. "Nobody is going to complain, because everyone has been complaining that the eastern border has been unguarded…"
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebary also asserts, in a statement, that he's spoken with his Syrian counterpart Walid al Mouallem, and that "more security cooperation between the two countries is needed along their common border.
Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal al Miqdad indicated, this morning, that Syria has asked Iraq for "clarifications" over the recent raid inside Syrian territory. He says we are going to re-examine what's going on with Iraq in light of the official responses we're getting from the Iraqi side, following our requests to the United Nations for clarifications from Iraq.
Miqdad added that he thinks relations with Iraq were actually "better than the sometimes harsh rhetoric coming out of both sides might suggest."