UN tells Syria to leave Lebanon, Hezbollah to disband

03/09/2004 UNITED NATIONS – The UN Security Council narrowly adopted a resolution on Thursday night telling Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, calling for the disbanding of Hezbollah and warning against outside interference in Beirut’s upcoming presidential election. The council voted 9-0 with six abstentions, the minimum vote possible, to approve the U.S-drafted resolution after the United States and co-sponsor France agreed under pressure not to mention Syria by name. Syria is the only country with foreign forces in Lebanon. This is the first Security Council resolution clearly directed against an Arab state. This is also the first time the Security Council has addressed Hezbollah. While Hezbollah is not mentioned by name, the resolution calls for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias. Diplomats and analysts said this is a direct allusion to Hezbollah.

U.S. Ambassador John Danforth said that Israel followed its commitment to withdraw from Lebanon, and now Syria must as well. In response to the resolution, Mohammed Issa, Lebanon’s secretary-general for foreign affairs, said the 17,000 Syrian soldiers were there at the government’s request to protect against „radical emanating from Israel.” The Syrian troops have been in Lebanon since the Lebanese civil war, which lasted from 1975 to 1990. Angola, Benin, Britain, Chile, Germany, Romania and Spain joined the United States and France in voting in favor of the measure. Brazil, the Philippines, Russia, Pakistan, Algeria and China abstained from the vote. ‘Free and fair presidential elections’ The resolution, which also calls for „free and fair presidential elections,” aims to head off a move in Lebanon’s parliament to amend the constitution and extend the term of Syrian-backed Lebanese President Emile Lahoud for three years after his current six-year term expires in November. Lebanon’s 128-member assembly has set a vote on the constitutional change for Friday and officials said the amendment would easily win the required two-thirds majority. „We believe Lebanon should be allowed to determine its own future and assume control of its own territory. Yet the Lebanese people are still unable to exercise their rights as a free people to make those choices and to take those steps as a nation,” Danforth told the council. „What the Lebanese people and we have witnessed over the past week in terms of Syrian actions is a crude mockery of this principle. It is clear that Lebanese parliamentarians have been pressured and even threatened by Syria and its agents to make them comply,” Danforth said. A senior Lebanese official asked council members to withdraw the resolution, saying the UN body had never interfered in this manner in the internal affairs of a member-state. Syria certainly did not need to leave when Israel was still on Lebanese territory, Lebanese secretary-general Issa said. But the United Nations decided in 2000 that Israel had withdrawn and that its troops in the Shaaba farms area were in Syria, not Lebanon, unless the two countries decided to change the border, which they have not. Most abstaining council members said they agreed with Lebanon that the measure interfered in the country’s internal affairs and would not contribute to a Middle East peace. „This cannot be justified as part of the role given to the Security Council,” Philippines Ambassador Lauro Baja said. Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Fayssal Mekdad, told reporters that Paris and Washington had „failed dramatically” in their mission because they had been obliged to rewrite the resolution to win its adoption. The resolution would have no impact and „has become „merely an expression” of interference in the internal affairs of a country, Mekdad told reporters after the council vote. By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz Correspondent, and Haaretz Service & BPI-info