Preventing rearmament

Officials try to keep weapons from Hezbollah


WASHINGTON -- The United States and Israel have launched a diplomatic effort to prevent other countries from helping rearm Hezbollah, warning that a resumption of the weapons flow could ignite new fighting in Lebanon just as the cease-fire begins to take hold.

Officials have been pressing major world arms suppliers - notably Russia and China - not to allow their weaponry to find its way to the Lebanese militant group. They have also been urging Turkish officials to prevent any flow of weapons across their land or airspace.

Israeli officials, who were jolted by the sophistication of Hezbollah's missiles during the 34-day war, fear that the rearmament of Hezbollah could put them face to face in the future with weapons with an even greater capability to reach into Israel and to overcome its defenses.

Yesterday, the Lebanese army symbolically took control of a first border village from withdrawing Israeli forces, as two soldiers drove slowly through Kfar Kila in a jeep. And in a bid to prevent more arms from reaching Hezbollah fighters, the government vowed to take over all border crossings nationwide, including 60 known smuggling routes from Syria.

Israeli officials have made clear that they would try to destroy any shipment they detect, though such an attack would likely bring a Hezbollah retaliation and set off new fighting.

"We're very concerned about this issue," one Israeli official said in an interview. "It's the most urgent one on the table right now."

The stepped-up effort by U.S. and Israeli officials to cut the weapons flow to Hezbollah came as U.N. officials appealed yesterday for greater European participation in an expanded multinational force for Lebanon. President Bush urged the French to increase their pledge of 200 additional troops.

Italy, meanwhile, formally agreed yesterday to contribute troops to a multinational United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon. The government of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said the number had not been determined, but officials previously have said they may send up to 3,000 soldiers, a contingent that would probably end up being one of the largest.

As Israel sought to stem the flow of more advanced munitions to militant fighters, officials in Israel disclosed yesterday that a senior delegation visited Moscow this week to complain that Russia had sold sophisticated laser-guided Kornet anti-tank weapons to Iran and Syria, which passed them along to Hezbollah.

Russia disputed the charge, saying it kept tight controls on such sales. Turkish and Chinese diplomats could not be reached yesterday.

U.S. officials acknowledged that they have talked to Turkey about cutting off the shipment of arms by Iran across its territory, a route that was used during this summer's fighting, when Israel's forces cut off the usual overland and sea routes from Syria into Lebanon.

Acting on suspected weapons transfers, Turkey forced two Syria-bound Iranian planes to land at the Diyarbakir Airport in the southeast of the country to search for rockets and other military equipment. The incidents took place July 27 and Aug. 8, the Turkish daily Hurriyet reported, but no military equipment was found.

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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