Lebanon's foreign ministry criticizes visit by US anti-terrorism team to border with Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon's foreign ministry and the militant Hezbollah group criticized on Thursday a visit by a U.S. security team to the Lebanese-Syrian border, saying it violates international diplomatic agreements.

The U.S. Embassy said Wednesday's trip was planned months ago and took place in coordination with the Lebanese government.

The visit comes on the heels of Israeli accusations that Syria is providing Hezbollah with Scud missiles, which have a greater range and can carry a much bigger warhead than the rockets Hezbollah fired at Israel in the past.

Syria has denied the allegations, as has Lebanon's Western-backed prime minister, but the scud controversy has added to the Lebanese-Israeli tensions.

Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was not informed in advance about the visit by the U.S. team to al-Masnaa border crossing point in the eastern Bekaa Valley. It added the visit violates an article of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that such missions should be conducted through the host country's foreign ministry.

A U.S. Embassy official said the American mission was part of an assessment team from the Department of States Anti-terrorism Assistance program, or ATA, which trains Lebanese security forces. The officials added that the team was in Lebanon to assess the training programs.

"The visit to al-Masnaa was done so at the invitation and in coordination with the Government of Lebanon," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "Their visit has been planned for several months."

Al-Masnaa is one of the busiest border crossing points between Lebanon and Syria and hundreds of trucks and cars cross that point every day in both directions.

Lebanon's Interior Minister Ziad Barroud described the visit as "normal," but Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah said it was "a major security violation for the country" and called for an investigation on who gave permission to the delegation to visit the border point.