Syria and Israel in showdown over U.N. force mandate on the Lebanese border

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Syria on Wednesday opposed deployment of an international force along its border to prevent arms shipments to Hezbollah, and Israel called the situation in Lebanon “explosive.” A cease-fire was further shaken by artillery shells and explosions that killed three Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora asked the U.S. to help lift an Israeli blockade on his country’s coast and airport, something Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said would not happen until U.N. troops deployed along the Lebanon-Syria border to block the flow of weapons. Hezbollah’s vast arsenal of rockets and other weapons, much of which is believed to originate in Iran, reaches the guerrillas across the Syrian border.

European Union ambassadors and deputies met in Brussels, Belgium, to drum up volunteers for the force, but tentative pledges reached just 4,200 troops by Wednesday, far short of the 15,000 called for by the U.N. cease-fire resolution. Deployment was likely take weeks or months.

Meanwhile, Syria indicated it might impose a blockade of its own.

“They will close their borders for all traffic in the event that U.N. troops are deployed along the Lebanon-Syria border,” Finland’s foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja said after meeting his Syrian counterpart, Walid Moallem, in Helsinki. Finland holds the rotating presidency of the European Union.

Lebanon has land borders only with Syria and Israel.

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