UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council expressed "serious concern" at mounting reports of weapons being smuggled from Syria to Lebanon and authorized an independent mission to evaluate monitoring of the border between the two countries.
The council adopted a presidential statement late Tuesday reiterating its demand that Syria tighten its border and urging all countries, "especially in the region," to enforce the arms ban on the Islamic militant group Hezbollah.
The Syrian- and Iranian-backed guerrillas based in southern Lebanon are prohibited from receiving arms shipments under a U.N. resolution that last summer's war with Israel.
The council also called on Lebanese political parties "to show responsibility with a view to preventing, through dialogue, further deterioration of the situation in Lebanon."
The statement came as Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon headed to Europe and the Middle East on a weeklong trip that will end in Syria.
Ban told reporters earlier Tuesday that his talks with Syrian President Bashar Assad and other officials in Damascus would emphasize the situation in Lebanon.
Lebanon has been paralyzed since November by a power struggle pitting Western-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, who is supported by many Sunni Muslims, against the opposition, led by the pro-Iranian Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah.
The sectarian tensions, brewing since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, have been reinforced by allegations that Hezbollah is rearming.
Ban warned during a visit to Lebanon last month that arms smuggling from Syria could threaten the cease-fire in Lebanon. He reportedly told Lebanese security chiefs that Israel had provided him with evidence of trucks crossing from Syria to Lebanon and unloading weapons.
He expressed the need for "an enhanced monitoring capacity of the Lebanese armed forces to ensure that there will be no such smuggling activity."
The council on Tuesday welcomed Ban's intention "to evaluate the situation along the entire border and invites him to dispatch at the earliest, in close liaison with the Lebanese government, an independent mission to fully assess the monitoring of the border."
The council reiterated its call to disband and disarm all militias and armed groups in Lebanon and said it would welcome any request by the Lebanese government for assistance "to enhance Lebanon's border security capacities."
The council reiterated "its deep concern at the continuing Israeli violations of Lebanese air space" and appealed to all parties to respect the cease-fire and the U.N.-drawn boundary between Israel and Lebanon known as the Blue Line.
Israeli warplanes continue to fly reconnaissance missions over Lebanon, although Beirut and the U.N. consider them a violation of the cease-fire and has demanded Israel stop.
The Lebanese prime minister, who is opposed to Hezbollah and Syrian influence, says "not one single case of arms smuggling across the border" with Syria has been recorded.
Hezbollah, however, has boasted that it replenished its stockpile of rockets after the war.
In February, Hezbollah acknowledged that a truckload of ammunition seized by the government belonged to the guerrilla group and demanded its release. It urged the government to abide by its own policy, proclaimed in 2005, to support the "resistance" in the south — which is Lebanese shorthand for Hezbollah — but the government refused.
The Security Council expressed "deep concern" at statements by Hezbollah's secretary general, notably about the February arms shipment, which "are an open admission of activities which would constitute a violation of resolution 1701."
It again urged Israel to provide the U.N. with detailed data on its use of cluster bombs in southern Lebanon.
The council noted "with profound concern" that there has been no progress on the issue of returning two Israeli soldiers abducted by Hezbollah, which triggered 34 days of fighting in Lebanon. It also encouraged efforts to urgently settle the issue of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.