UN condemns restrictions on peacekeepers in South Lebanon

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UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The UN Security Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday strongly condemning harassment, intimidation, attacks and restrictions on UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

It also called on the Lebanese authorities to speed up the deployment of land and naval forces to the area bordering Israel.

The decision, which extends the mandate of the peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL until 31 August 2023, once again emphasizes the importance of all parties respecting the Blue Line drawn by the UN between Lebanon and Israel.

He expresses concern over the recent deployment of “containers” along the line that has restricted the access and visibility of UN forces, and the inability to visit areas north of the line related to tunnels that UNIFIL says Israel discovered in late 2018.

Israel has repeatedly accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah of preventing UNIFIL peacekeepers from fulfilling their duties. Hezbollah got stuck in a month-long war with Israel in 2006, and in 2019 Israel destroyed a number of what it said were attack tunnels dug under the border by Hezbollah.

UNIFIL was formed to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after the 1978 invasion. The mission was expanded after the 2006 war so that peacekeepers could be deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border to help Lebanese troops expand their jurisdiction in the south of their country for the first time in decades. This resolution also called for a complete cessation of Israel-Hezbollah hostilities, but this did not materialise.

The resolution, adopted Wednesday, does not mention by name Hezbollah, which is active in southern Lebanon.

However, US deputy ambassador Richard Mills noted that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in his latest report that UNIFIL troops are being prevented from carrying out their duties and accessing areas “with increasing frequency”, and the American envoy has strongly stated that Hezbollah is to blame.

“The proliferation of prefabricated containers placed by Greens Without Borders is blocking UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line and increasing tensions in the region, indicating that the so-called environmental group is acting on behalf of Hezbollah,” Mills said.

The resolution condemns in the strongest terms “all attempts to restrict the freedom of movement of UNIFIL personnel, all acts of harassment and intimidation, and all attacks on peacekeepers”, including attacks from 2018 to January 2022. Lebanon and the United Nations authorize UNIFIL peacekeepers to carry out their missions without prior authorization or permission.

The resolution “requests parties to end all restrictions and obstructions to the movement of UNIFIL personnel and to guarantee UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, including allowing informed and unannounced patrols,” reaffirming the UN mission’s mandate to act independently.

The Security Council strongly reaffirmed the necessity of deploying Lebanese armed forces in southern Lebanon and its territorial waters at “accelerated speed”.

He also strongly encouraged the Lebanese government to “accelerate the deployment of a model regiment” and welcomed the opening of its headquarters in the village of Srobbine in South Lebanon on 13 June. The regiment is funded by the European Union.

At the same time, he strongly encouraged the faster deployment of a patrol vessel at UNIFIL’s operational area and reiterated its call to the government to “present as soon as possible a plan to increase naval capabilities” with UNIFIL’s ultimate goal of reducing naval force and delegating responsibilities. to the government.

UNIFIL has a uniformed staff ceiling of 13,000, but the latest UN figures say less than 10,650 have been deployed.

Lebanon is grappling with a crippling economic crisis that has plunged more than three-quarters of its population into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value against the US dollar. The country’s already weak infrastructure has worsened after the massive explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which killed more than 200 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed several neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

The Security Council resolution expresses solidarity with Lebanon and its people in the aftermath of the port explosion and regrets “the lack of progress of an independent, impartial, comprehensive and transparent investigation into the explosions of the Lebanese judicial system”.

The Council also urged Lebanese political leaders to urgently form a government capable of implementing reforms and responding to “the current and unprecedented acute social, economic and humanitarian crises”.

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