UN chief warns of rising tension in Lebanon
United Nations: Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that political tensions in Lebanon have increased markedly ahead of expected indictments by the UN-backed tribunal set up to prosecute the assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
In a report to the UN Security Council circulated on Friday, Ban said that "confrontation" over the tribunal "has led to a deterioration in the political consensus that had prevailed" since Lebanon's national unity government was formed in 2009.
There has been increasing anger and suspicion in Lebanon about the tribunal's work, and mounting fears that indictments could re-ignite hostilities between rival Shiite and Sunnis, particularly if Hezbollah fighters who are part of the unity government are targeted.
The tribunal president, Judge Antonio Cassese, said last week he hopes prosecutors will issue an indictment by December in the 2005 truck bombing that killed Hariri and 22 others on Beirut's Mediterranean waterfront.
The secretary-general reported "no progress" in disarming Hezbollah and Palestinian militias, as called for in the Security Council resolution that ended the Israeli-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006.
"Hezbollah, which remains the most significant armed group in Lebanon, continues to maintain substantial military capabilities outside the control of the state" and its leaders "do not deny" the organisation has substantially upgraded and expanded its arsenal, Ban said.
The UN chief said Israel continues to allege that Hezbollah now possesses more than 55,000 missiles and rockets, and is seeking to acquire even more advanced weapons. Israel also claims that weapons are being shipped across the border from Syria to Lebanon in violation of a UN arms embargo, he said.
"Although the United Nations takes these allegations seriously, it is not in a position to verify this information independently," Ban said.
The secretary-general said armed Palestinian groups operating outside refugee camps also continue to challenge the Lebanese government's authority. He noted a statement on August 31 by Ahmad Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, "to the effect that his organisation would not hand over its weapons to the Lebanese authorities."
Ban reiterated his call for armed groups to be disarmed "through a Lebanese-led political process" that would bring all weapons under government control. He welcomed the continuation of a national dialogue and urged participants "to make further progress towards the establishment of a national defense strategy that would address armed groups operating outside the control of the state."