21st March 2014 Beirut, Lebanon
This week I visited Lebanon’s Northern border with the Lebanese Army. I wanted to see the way in which they are trying to enforce sovereignty at this challenging time, supported by UK projects.
A series of UK funded border towers, some built (symbolically) with material previously used in Northern Ireland, are the most significant evidence in the area that a border actually exists. They cannot prevent all cross border activity, far from it. But they do mark Lebanese state determination to keep the war out. We are waiting for the results of an independent survey of local communities to see the impact.
Checkpoints in the area are now manned by courageous LAF troops in UK provided body armour. This week alone they have stopped two vehicles packed with explosives heading for civilian areas. We have rebuilt the checkpoint on the outskirts of Hermel, where a recent suicide attack left two soldiers dead. It was good to see many UK provided Land Rovers on patrol.
Real challenges lie ahead. We are now supporting the LAF to build a further eight observation posts on the North Eastern border, the most porous section, nearer the worst of the recent fighting in Yabroud. With many more refugees fleeing the fighting, and an increasing number of fighters (of both sides) inside Lebanon, the coming weeks are a real test for the new Lebanese government. They have to balance the need to tackle extremists with protection of local and civilian populations, while preventing an intensification of direct clashes between Lebanese and Syrian militias inside Lebanon. It is important that all parties, including those who normally say most about resisting external aggression, reject Syrian shelling of Lebanon’s citizens. More than ever, they must unite to put Lebanon’s interests first.
The period ahead will require great wisdom, caution and neutrality. But it is a vital part of the effort to keep Syria’s war out of Lebanon.