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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 April 2018

Syrians mine Lebanese border to halt weapons smuggling

Syrian troops are seen planting mines along a region bordering northern Lebanon in a bid to stem weapons smuggling.

TRIPOLI, Lebanon // Syrian troops were seen planting mines along a region bordering northern Lebanon yesterday in a bid to stem weapons smuggling, a local Lebanese official told Agence France-Presse.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said the troops began planting the mines at dawn in an area facing two Lebanese villages - Knaysseh and Al Hnayder.

"Lebanese officials told us the Syrians undertook the measure to prevent weapons smuggling," he said. "A number of Syrian soldiers were also seen deploying on their side of the border, near the Syrian villages of Heet and Buwayt," he added. The Lebanese official's account could not be independently verified.

Tension in the region has mounted since the revolt against Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's regime erupted in March and about 5,000 Syrians, among them defecting soldiers and opposition activists, have sought refuge in Lebanon.

Yesterday thousands of Syrians held a rally in support of Mr Al Assad, but the regime's crackdown on dissent continued in opposition areas as security forces killed at least four people, including a teenager, activists said.

The United Nations estimates that the crackdown on protests has killed 3,000 people.

On Wednesday, an Arab committee held talks with Mr Al Assad over ways to end the crisis, which began in mid-March.

The Arab committee is trying to start talks between Mr Al Assad's government and its opponents, but protest leaders reject any dialogue with the regime while it continues its brutal crackdown.

The meeting in Damascus between the Arab ministerial committee and Mr Al Assad came hours after tens of thousands of Syrians packed a square in the Syrian capital, chanting, "the people want Bashar Assad." Mr Al Assad succeeded his father, and together the family has ruled Syria for more than 40 years.

The Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassem Bin Jabr Al Thani, who heads the Arab committee, was quoted by state television as saying that the Arab delegation felt that the Syrian government is eager to work to reach a solution.

Sheikh Hamad told reporters that the Arab committee and the Syrian government will hold another meeting on Sunday either in Syria or in Qatar.

"What is important for us is that there are no victims from any side in Syria," Sheik Hamad told reporters. "The fighting should stop and the dialogue should begin between the Syrian brothers so that, God willing, they agree on points that fulfil people demands."

* Associated Press and Agence France-Presse