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Syria Massing Troops Along Border with Lebanon

Eyewitness reports say that Syria is continuing to mass troops along its border with Lebanon, prompting the warning from the United States not to meddle or to intervene militarily. For VOA, Edward Yeranian reports from Beirut.

Fresh reports of a Syrian troop buildup along Lebanon's eastern Beka'a Valley are ringing alarm bells in Beirut and Washington.

Quoting Lebanese security sources, the Arab daily al-Hayat, reports the Syrian army has deployed tanks to the Beka'a Valley border town of al-Qa'a. Eyewitnesses also report that the Syrian Army has dug trenches and erected earthen barriers.

Two weeks ago, Lebanon's LBC TV broadcast images of Syrian troops camped along Lebanon's northern border, sparking initial fears of an invasion.

The latest Syrian troop buildup follows a series of defense protocols signed Monday by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense Mary Beth Long and Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr.

The three agreements include a one-time U.S. gift of $63 million in military equipment to the Lebanese army. The Israeli Web site Debka File claims the gift includes a number of Cobra helicopters now stationed in Jordan.

U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State David Hale told a Lebanese radio station the United States has "no intention of changing its policy towards either Lebanon or Syria," and it is "committed to Lebanese sovereignty."

Monday, State Department Spokesman Robert Wood said the United States told Syria any "intervention" in Lebanon is "unacceptable."

Syrian officials have repeatedly insisted the troop build-up along the border is merely intended to "combat smuggling."

The head of the Political Science Department at the American University of Beirut, Professor Hilal Kashan, thinks Syria is preparing the ground for an eventual Lebanon incursion by using the Fatah al-Islam guerrilla group, which Syria created, as a pretext.

"If terrorist attacks against the Lebanese Army in the north continue to go ahead, and it is my understanding that Fatah al-Islam is engaged in these activities against the army, and we all know that Fatah al Islam is a [Syrian] intelligence creation, and reports from Syria say that the Syrians have arrested their leader, Chaker al Abssi, and that they aborted, last month, a terrorist attack against a packed stadium in Damascus. So, all that is designed to show that there is a wedge between Fatah al Islam and Syria," said Kashan.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said last week that Islamic militants inside Lebanon "pose a threat to Syrian stability."

Lebanon's parliamentary majority leader Sa'ad Hariri responded to Mr. Assad, asserting that "Syria represents a threat to Lebanese stability."