SULTAN YACOUB, Lebanon -- Commandos manned positions near Palestinian militant bases and soldiers blocked smuggling routes along the Syrian border yesterday, as Lebanon intensified efforts to control its territory amid heightened tensions with Syria.
As Lebanon acted against the pro-Syrian militants, its Cabinet rejected UN calls to do more to disarm militia groups such as Hezbollah, saying dialogue was needed, not international pressure.
The standoff began as Syria faced US-led pressure to crack down on Palestinian militants, branded terrorists by Washington, and to cooperate with a UN probe into allegations that Syrian officials were behind the February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.
Hundreds of Lebanese troops backed by tanks deployed yesterday around militant camps in Sultan Yacoub and the nearby town of Helweh, near the Syrian border.
The troops raided depots used by smugglers to bring goods into Lebanon and erected dirt mounds on major smuggling routes.
Syrian forces on the other side of the border did not interfere, villagers said.
Lebanon said the Fatah Uprising group in Helweh for shooting dead a Lebanese civilian contractor this week, claims the group denies. Another heavily armed militia in Sultan Yacoub, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, is linked to weapons smuggling from Syria.
Both groups warned Lebanon about tensions. Ahmed Jibril, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command, said his group would not give up its weapons and dismissed UN reports that arms are coming from Syria.
''Our weapons are not just to protect the Palestinian camps in Lebanon but they are for the struggle to preserve our rights to self-determination and return," said Jibril, who was named in a UN report implicating senior Syrian and Lebanese security officials in Hariri's killing.
The standoff with the Palestinian militants started Wednesday, a day after the shooting of the contractor near the Syrian-Lebanese border.
On Wednesday, the UN envoy to Lebanon and Syria, Terje Roed-Larsen, said in a Security Council report that Lebanon has made no significant progress in disbanding militias, partly because more weapons are coming into their possession from Syria.
A UN resolution passed in September 2004 demanded that Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias disarm and that troops deploy in southern Lebanon. It also called for disarmament, including ending Hezbollah's presence.