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French Version

Tensions ease as Lebanese Army troops tighten grip

The security outlook in Lebanon continued to improve on Wednesday, amid a tumultuous political situation and a whirlwind of mediation efforts. The Masnaa border crossing into Syria, blocked by pro-government supporters during week-long clashes between feuding Lebanese parties, was reopened partially on Tuesday as an Arab League ministerial committee arrived in Beirut.

The status of this partial opening, which cleared a road for passage to and from Lebanon and Syria, is dependent on positive developments related to Arab League efforts to bring about a political truce in the country.

A security source told The Daily Star that pro-government demonstrators have linked a full clearing of the Masnaa passage to the reopening by opposition members of the main highway leading to Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport.

In the capital, access roads to the airport, initially blocked by opposition supporters, were cleared of debris in order to facilitate the arrival of the ministerial committee, as Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa had made mediation efforts conditional upon arrival at the airport.

The roads leading to the airport were later closed down again by the opposition, which says it will not back down until the government rescinds a decision to rotate current airport security chief General Wafiq Shoucair and probe a telecommunications network operated by Hizbullah.

Southeast of Beirut, the Lebanese Aarmed Forces (LAF) detonated unexploded hand grenades in Choueifat as part of a deployment to the Aley and Chouf districts, which were the scene of intense clashes over the weekend between Progressive Socialist Party and opposition fighters.

The Zahle district in the central Bekaa region also saw a relative return to normalcy, with the reopening of several roads shut off last week by government supporters.

Despite clashes and reports of brutality in Tripoli during the past few days, a security source told The Daily Star that the security outlook in and around the Northern port city has improved markedly, with LAF deployments resulting in a citywide clamp-down on violence. An overnight explosion was reported, but it appears that this was due to an overloaded electricity generator.

In a measure aimed at easing the burden of citizens affected by the violence, the Internal Security Forces released a statement Tuesday announcing that "all ISF bureaus and stations" will be open for the airing of complaints and assuring citizens that "appropriate and necessary measures will be taken to mitigate any existing difficulties."

In other security-related news, the LAF's commander, General Michel Suleiman, met with US Charge d'Affaires to Lebanon Michele Sison and a US Central Command (CENTCOM) delegation headed by acting CENTCOM commander Lieutenant General Martin E. Dempsey in order to discuss a possible shoring up of the Lebanese military's capabilities.

The meeting comes as US President Bush and several American military representatives are indicating a desire to strengthen and accelerate support of the Lebanese Army.

State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Tuesday that the aid is part of a military assistance program agreed upon previously by the US and Lebanese governments.

Although reports indicate that the government will likely repeal its controversial decisions, it appears a pronouncement will await a broader settlement being worked out by the Arab League and an assortment of Lebanese political leaders.

Beirut 15-05-2008
The Daily Star

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