AP Interview: Lebanon FM warns over Syria strike

BEIRUT (AP) — International punitive strikes against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime without a United Nations mandate will pose a “serious threat” to the security and stability across the Middle East, Lebanon’s foreign minister said Thursday.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Adnan Mansour warned that a Western military strike would escalate tensions in Lebanon and may dramatically increase the number of Syrian refugees.

Lebanon is a tiny country that shares a porous border with Syria, and has seen cross-border shelling, sectarian clashes and car bombings in recent months related to the civil war raging next door.

There are concerns that U.S. military action in Syria may trigger another wave of refugees fleeing across the border into Lebanon — the country of 4.5 million already is already host to nearly 1 million Syrian refugees — and trigger violence across the country.

“A limited or extended military strike by one or more countries against Syria is a serious threat to the security and stability of the region,” said Mansour, who is seen as sympathetic to the Assad regime.

“Any military action against any country, particularly an Arab state, which is not rooted in international legitimacy and the (U.N.) Security Council, is a direct aggression against this state,” he added.

Lebanon is sharply divided between supporters and opponents of Assad’s regime and is split along sectarian lines. Two powerful car bombings in predominantly Shiite areas controlled by the pro-Assad militant group Hezbollah, followed by deadly car bombings earlier this month in the northern city of Tripoli, a Sunni stronghold, have fueled sectarian tensions in the country, pushing the country to the brink of war itself.

There are also fears that a U.S. strike against Assad would trigger Hezbollah retaliation against U.S. ally Israel, potentially drawing in the Jewish State into a wider conflict.

He warned that Lebanon, in particular, would be affected.

“Such an operation will have negative repercussions on Lebanon’s security and stability, as well as from the social and humanitarian perspective,” he added.

Mansour said there can be no alternative to end Syria’s 2 ½ year civil war other than a political solution, adding that a military strike will “complicate” matters.

“We have the experience of Afghanistan and Iraq,’ he said. “Iraq is still suffering from the chaos and instability and lack of security,” he said.

Mansour rejected accusations that the Syrian regime was behind the Aug. 21 purported chemical weapons attack near Damascus, that killed hundreds of people, saying there had to be an investigation before accusations are leveled.

“The regime cannot be accused in advance,” he said. He added that blaming Syria quickly before an investigation concludes gives the impression of an intent to frame the Syrian government to provide a cover for a military operation.

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