Hezbollah arms detailed

Annan, Olmert fail to agree on Lebanon exit

August 31, 2006|By Peter Spiegel and Laura King | Peter Spiegel and Laura King,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- New postwar intelligence indicates that the militant group Hezbollah had broader access to sophisticated weaponry than was publicly known - including large numbers of medium-range rockets made in Syria, according to U.S. and Israeli officials and military analysts.

The size of the Hezbollah arsenal and the direct role of Syria in supplying it will complicate the task of keeping Hezbollah from fully rearming, the officials said.

Before the war, Hezbollah's access to weapons supplied by Iran and shipped through other countries was well-documented. So, too, was Syria's role in allowing transshipments of arms into Lebanon from Iran and its political support for Hezbollah. But official Washington believed that Syria mostly was not supplying munitions directly.

The new weapons data indicating a broader Syrian role was gathered by Israel largely by examining debris left by shells during the monthlong combat. The examination uncovered serial numbers and other characteristics of the weapons Hezbollah fired. Israel's postwar forensics have shown that some of the rockets were manufactured by the Syrian munitions industry, military sources said.

The disclosures dovetail with postwar diplomatic strategies. Israel, backed by the Bush administration, would like to see international peacekeepers deployed along the Syria-Lebanon border - a step it says is needed to prevent arms shipments to Hezbollah. Lebanon, backed by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has resisted that idea, as have the Syrians.

Syrian officials would neither confirm nor deny the reports.

"These are just accusations," said a spokesperson for the Syrian Embassy in Washington, who requested anonymity.

In Jerusalem, Annan met yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and called for an immediate easing of Israel's air and sea blockade of Lebanon and a withdrawal of its troops once about one-third of a promised 15,000-member international force has been deployed in southern Lebanon.

Olmert responded by saying that the United Nations cease-fire resolution must first be fully implemented. His office said later that Israel would not consider the terms of the resolution to have been met until two Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah are freed.

Speaking at a joint news conference, Olmert said: "Everything will be implemented, including the lifting of the blockade, as part of the entire implementation of the different articles."

Annan and Olmert also were apparently unable to reach an accord on whether the Syrian border will be policed by the international force or the Lebanese army. Lebanon has said that its army would patrol the frontier, but Israel demands that the international force deploy there.

"We need to be flexible," Annan said. "We shouldn't insist that the only way to do it is by deploying international forces."

Even though little progress appeared to have been made, Annan sought to play down their disagreements. "There isn't that much of a difference [of opinion] between Prime Minister Olmert and myself," Annan later told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah, where he met with Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

Annan and Olmert expressed hopes for a comprehensive accord between Lebanon and Israel. Olmert said the cease-fire could serve as the "cornerstone to build a new reality between Israel and Lebanon." But in Lebanon, Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his country would be "the last Arab country that could sign a peace agreement with Israel."

Further dampening hopes for a break in the impasse over the captured Israeli soldiers, a Hezbollah member of the Lebanese Cabinet said they would only be freed as part of a prisoner exchange. "There will be no unconditional release; this is not possible," said Mohammed Fneish.

Peter Spiegel and Laura King write for the Los Angeles Times.

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