BEIRUT, Lebanon – Lebanese police traded gunfire with smugglers on the border, while Syria arrested Lebanese fishermen Sunday in new tensions that reflect increasing acrimony between the countries since Damascus was forced to end its domination of its neighbor.
In another surprise move, Damascus said it wants Lebanon to compensate the families of Syrian workers killed here during a wave of anti-Syrian sentiment after the Feb. 14 assassination of Lebanese former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (search).
Syrian media have reported that up to 35 Syrians were killed in Lebanon after Hariri's death, but that number has not been confirmed in either country and unofficial Lebanese estimates put it at much less.
The Lebanese and Syrian governments always touted their nations' brotherhood during three decades of Syrian control. But Hariri's slaying, which many Lebanese blamed on Syria, opened a wave of anger at Damascus.
Syria was forced to withdraw its troops from Lebanon in April and, since then, anti-Damascus politicians have gained control of parliament.
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa (search) tried Sunday to calm the bitterness, meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad (search) and the foreign minister in Damascus. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (search) also spoke with Assad by telephone.
Moussa said relations between the two countries should be "based on the mutual interests of Syria and Lebanon in a constructive, brotherly" atmosphere.
Relations appear to have deteriorated sharply in past weeks, with Syrian officials holding up hundreds of trucks leaving Lebanon into Syria bound for other Arab countries.
Syria contends the delays are caused by necessary security searches. Many Lebanese say the measures are simply out of spite and aim to harm Lebanon's economy.
On Sunday, Lebanese police traded fire with smugglers near the village of Qaa, 60 miles northeast of Beirut, in an area where the border with Syria is not clearly marked.
The smugglers were returning to Syria with contraband when a Lebanese customs patrol spotted them, a border policeman said on condition of anonymity because of security concerns. One Lebanese officer was slightly wounded, and the smugglers escaped into Syria, the official said.
The Lebanese border policeman also claimed a Syrian border patrol member shot toward Lebanese customs officers. Syrian customs officials declined to comment on the report.
Security officials in northern Lebanon, also declining to be identified because of the sensitivity of the situation, said a Syrian sea patrol arrested four Lebanese fishermen Sunday after they entered Syrian waters at Aridah, north of the Lebanese city of Tripoli (search).
Syria also arrested five fisherman — four Lebanese and a Syrian — on Saturday for the same reason, referring them to the prosecutor general in the Syrian port city of Tartous (search).
Meanwhile, Syrian social affairs and labor minister, Deyalla al-Haj Aref, told the private Syrian Al Iktisadieh weekly that her ministry has sent "detailed lists" of Syrian workers killed in Lebanon — including the date, time and manner in which they were killed — and asked for compensation for their families.
Aref did not say how many died and said Syria would discuss the issue further with Lebanon once its Cabinet is formed.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Fuad Saniora (search) has been selected to lead a new government by the anti-Syrian coalition that controls parliament after last month's elections ended the long domination of the legislature by Damascus' allies. But his efforts to cobble together a Cabinet have been hampered by political squabbling.
The wave of anti-Syrian feeling following Hariri's slaying was directed at the tens of thousands of Syrians seeking jobs in Lebanon, with several reported killed and others injured in stabbings and scuffles.