World leaders condemn Lebanon fighting, warn of human crisis

PARIS : UN chief Ban Ki-Moon on Monday led global condemnation of a resurgence in fighting in Lebanon which has killed at least 55 people in two days and fuelled fears of a fresh humanitarian crisis.

Ban’s spokeswoman Michele Montas said the the UN secretary general was “gravely concerned about the fighting in the last two days between Fatah el-Islam gunmen and the Lebanese army” and also “strongly condemns yesterday’s terrorist bombing in Beirut.”

Lebanese troops pounded Islamist militiamen in a Palestinian refugee camp on Monday, the second day of the bloodiest internal fighting since the 1975-90 civil war.

At least 55 people have died over the past two days in fierce gun battles between the Lebanese army and militants from the shadowy Sunni group Fatah al-Islam, accused of links to Al-Qaeda and Syrian intelligence services.

“The actions of Fatah al-Islam are an attack on Lebanon’s stability and sovereignty,” Montas said, adding that Ban “welcomes the united stand taken by Palestinian factions in Lebanon denouncing these attacks on the Lebanese army.”

Saudi Arabia, one of Lebanon’s principal financial backers, made an appeal to maintain “the sovereignty and stability of Lebanon and support all that is likely to consolidate its security.”

The German presidency of the European Union said Berlin viewed the fighting with very great concern, and “condemns the attack on the Lebanese security forces in the strongest terms.”

Spain expressed “grave concern” over the bloodletting and underlined its “solid backing to the Lebanese government in dealing with the situation,” according to a foreign ministry statement.

Britain backed the Lebanese military offensive in northern Lebanon in a statement by Foreign Office junior minister Kim Howells.

“The existence of extremists sympathetic to Al-Qaeda in the camp is a threat to Lebanon and the broader region and the vast majority of Palestinians in that camp and others oppose them,” he said.

London also condemned Sunday’s bombing in east Beirut that killed one person and injured many others.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner spoke with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora on Sunday to assure him of France’s solidarity, his office said.

During his call, Kouchner stressed the importance Paris gave to “the independence, sovereignty and stability of Lebanon” and the need to “investigate the situation, especially in Tripoli.”

Richard Cook, director of the United Nations Relief Works Agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA), said the fighting in and around Nahr al-Bared camp was a “developing humanitarian crisis.”

However, Syria on Monday said the current turmoil was a bid to prod the UN Security Council into setting up the international tribunal to try suspects in the murder of Lebanese ex-premier Rafiq Hariri.

Syria’s UN Ambassador Bashar Jaafari also denied any ties between Damascus and the Islamist extremists currently battling the Lebanese army.

“Every time there is a meeting in the Security Council to deal with the Lebanese crisis, one or two days before the Council meets, there is some kind of trouble, either assassinations, or explosions or attempts to assassinate somebody,” he said.

“This is not a coincidence…Some people are trying to influence the Security Council and to make pressure on the Council so they can go ahead with the adoption of the draft resolution on the tribunal,” he said.

Lebanon has been in turmoil since the mandate of Damascus-backed President Emile Lahoud was extended for three years in 2004 under a Syrian-inspired constitutional amendment.

The country has remained split between pro- and anti-Syrian camps.


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