The Lebanese army said on Monday that Syria has boosted troop numbers along the border but that Damascus has noted the move is linked to a crackdown against smugglers. "Nearly 10,000 Syrian special forces have been deployed in the Abbudiya region along the border between Lebanon and Syria," an army spokesman told AFP.
"We asked Damascus for clarification and we were told that the measures were strictly internal and on Syrian territory, and that they were in no way directed against Lebanon," he added, according to AFP. The spokesman said the Syrian authorities have assured the Lebanese army that the build-up is aimed at cracking down on smuggling and other crime along the border. Sources in Lebanon conveyed that the deployed units belong to the Presidential Guard, which is headed by Maher Assad, the brother of the Syrian president.
The strengthened deployment is visible from the Lebanese side of the border.
Existing positions have been reinforced by military vehicles and tents have also been put up, AFP added. Traffic is continuing to pass through the main border point, although the Syrian army is cracking down on illegal crossings, making it more difficult to go through, it said.
The Lebanese newspaper Al-Mustaqbal, which is owned by the anti-Syrian al Hariri family, said the troops began deploying along the northern border at the weekend. News of the build-up raised fears in Lebanon after statements made by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in early September expressing his "concern" at the recent interfaith violence in the northern city of Tripoli. The Syrian leader said he had asked his Lebanese counterpart Michel Sleiman to "urgently send more troops to the north".