Syria fires rockets into Lebanon as coalition seeks first leader

Damascus sends warning that it will not tolerate arms and rebels crossing between two nations

Loveday Morris
Monday 18 March 2013 21:12
Comments

Lebanon was grappling to maintain its fragile peace today as Syrian fighter jets fired rockets into its territory in what appeared to be an act of admonition from Damascus as it demands a clampdown on militants and arms crossing the border.

The salvo of four regime rockets – which struck around 5km from the border – caused no casualties but sparked panic in the nearby border town of Arsal, home to thousands of refugees in addition to rebel fighters and weapons smugglers. The attack came as Syria’s opposition National Coalition met in Istanbul to attempt to form a new transitional government – though some parties on the ground remain skeptical of what many see as an external organisation.

As the two-year civil war marches on next door, Lebanon is facing an escalating array of threats to its stability, struggling with sectarian clashes, strikes and the burden of hundreds of thousands of refugees. Protesters blocked roads in Beirut for a second day today after four Sunni sheikhs were attacked in two incidents over the weekend.

The strikes near the border were only the second time Syrian planes have struck Lebanon since the conflict began. Damascus threatened just three days ago to strike targets in Lebanon if the government did not improve border security, saying it was practicing “self restraint” by not hitting gatherings of “armed gangs”.

“People are scared,” said Wafic Khalaf, a member of Arsal’s municipal council. “It’s a warning.”

In Istanbul, National Coalition’s 73 members are expected to vote on a prime minister tomorrow before moving the interim government into rebel held areas in the north of the country in the coming weeks.

Most of the ten candidates for prime minister announced by the coalition are technocrats and businessmen based abroad, making it uncertain whether they will be able to garner legitimacy if and when they move into northern Syria. The names of two other candidates within Syria were not released for security reasons. The frontrunners are understood to be Ghassan Hitto, an IT executive from Dallas; Osama Kadi, an economist from Ontario, and Asaad Mustapha, a former agriculture minister.

General Salim Idris, head of the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, came out in support of the initiative and said his men would protect members. “We recognise the coalition as our political umbrella and we hope this government can be formed unanimously and that this government will exercise its powers in all of Syria,” he said. “We consider it the only legal government in the country.”

However, it is unclear how much of the disparate Free Syrian Army he speaks for. “The fighters will not recognise any government except one that’s from the inside, that has fought beside them,” said one rebel with the Ansar al Deen battalion. “Maybe they will get some recognition from the West or outside, but not from us.”

The opposition coalition has appealed for international support, while it pushes for greater military assistance. US Secretary of State John Kerry today said his government would not stand in the way of British and French efforts to arm the rebels as they lobby for the end to the EU arms embargo against the country.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in