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Two Syrian commando battalions accompanied by reconnaissance and engineering corps units have crossed into Lebanon in the last 48 hours and taken up positions in seven villages, most of them Allawite Muslim, outside Tripoli, DEBKAfile’s military sources reported Saturday, Sept. 13. They are the vanguard of a large armored force poised on the border.
Damascus has signaled to Washington and Paris: Don’t interfere.
It is the largest Syrian force to invade Lebanon since Damascus was forced to end its occupation of the country in May 2005, three months after former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri was assassinated.
Tripoli is Lebanon’s second-largest city, with half a million inhabitants, most of them Sunni Moslems but including large Christian and Alawite communities.
The Syrian incursion coincided with the expected arrival of Russian naval and engineering experts for renovating Tartus, the Syrian port 40 kilometers north of Tripoli, to serve as the Russian fleet’s first permanent Mediterranean base. Bashar Assad clearly feels he can safely embark on a fresh foreign adventure to occupy northern Lebanon without fear of restraint.
Damascus - Syria on Thursday denounced the murder of a pro-Syrian Lebanese politician as a terrorist act aimed at undermining security in its neighbour ahead of planned multi-party reconciliation talks.
"Syrian firmly denounces the criminal and terrorist act which claimed the life of Saleh Aridi," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
"Syria is convinced that such crimes that target security and stability in Lebanon will not achieve their objectives," it said.
Aridi, a senior member of the Lebanese Democratic Party, was assassinated in a car bombing on Wednesday in the first attack against a pro-Syrian politician since a string of bombings targeted mainly anti-Syrian figures.
Kuwait’s Alseyassah newspaper is reporting: “Syrian Special Forces are entering Lebanese Alawite villages.”
According to the report – which we have yet to independently confirm – “hundreds” of Syrian commandos, preceded by “dozens” of Syrian intelligence operatives, have crossed into northern Lebanon near the Lebanese village of Hekr el Dahr a few kilometers from the Mediterranean coast.
“The objective of the Syrian soldiers would be to reach Baal Mhesen, an Alawite sector in Tripoli, under the guise of protecting the Alawites [a Syrian-rooted Islamic offshoot — neither Shiia nor Sunni – but whom are allied with Hezbollah] who have been fighting Sunnis in the north for months,” say our sources.