AL-HERI, Syria (AP) – Syria has increased military posts and patrols along its border with Iraq and stopped thousands of infiltrators entering into the war-torn country, a top military officer said Friday.
The Syrian officer”s comments came during a rare government-orchestrated media tour along the 600 kilometer (370 mile) border that appeared aimed at deflecting U.S.-led criticism that Damascus doing to little to stop militants entering Iraq.
Syrian forces have increased their border outposts to 557 from 547 since June, with each position having eight to 10 soldiers, said the officer who identified himself only Brig. Gen. Amin.
Syria has also caught 1,400 infiltrators from "Arab, Islamic and other identities" and most have been returned to their countries, he said. "Thousands" more Syrians have been stopped entering or leaving Iraq illegally, while 2,500 Iraqis have been returned to Iraq after committing crimes in Syria.
Washington and Baghdad have long criticized the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad for not locking down the Syrian side of the border to Islamic extremists opposed to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. But Assad”s government rejects the claims, arguing it is impossible to seal the border.
The Americans ratcheted the pressure in recent days after a U.N. investigation”s findings implicated Syrian officials in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
The United States, Britain and France, all permanent Security Council members, promoted this week a resolution threatening tough sanctions against Syria if it fails to cooperate with the Hariri assassination probe.
It also demands Syria make senior officials available for U.N. investigators and would freeze assets and impose travel bans on anyone identified as a suspect. The report accused Syria of refusing to cooperate with his probe.