UN Security Council spars over Lebanese peacekeeping mission


Lebanon has called for a UN peacekeeping force’s mandate to be renewed without changes after Washington accused its commander of being “blind” to the flow of weapons to Iran-backed Hezbollah.

The peacekeeping mission known as UNIFIL, which patrols Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, is up for renewal when its mandate expires on August 31.

Israel and the US are pressing for improvements to the force to combat what they say is the spread of illegal arms to the region, which is dominated by Hezbollah.

But Lebanon’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, told the UN Security Council on Tuesday that renewing the force’s mandate in its present form was paramount to the country’s security.

“Preserving the mandate of @unifil is necessary for peace and stability, otherwise will jeopardize efforts of @UN,” Bassil added on Twitter.

‘Giving terrorists a pass’

Bassil’s comments follow sharp criticism of the peacekeeping force by officials in Washington, where Hezbollah is regarded as a terrorist organisation.

Last Friday, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, accused UNIFIL’s Irish commander, Major General Michael Beary, of an “embarrassing lack of understanding” in failing to uncover Iranian weapon supplies to the Lebanese militant group.

“[Beary] seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind to what Hezbollah is doing,” she said, adding that his view of the situation “shows that we need to have changes” in the mission.

“We are not looking to change the mandate itself. We are looking to include language that clearly directs UNIFIL to do what it should have been doing for years,” Haley said.

“It’s time the Security Council puts teeth in the UNIFIL operation,” she added. “We don’t need to be giving terrorists a pass.”

Continuity

First launched in 1978, UNIFIL was expanded after the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah so that peacekeepers could deploy along the border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has told the Security Council that he intends to look at ways for the peacekeeping force to “enhance its efforts”, but that it is primarily the Lebanese military’s responsibility to ensure the south is free of illegal weapons.

It is not clear how the council will respond to the pressure from Washington, but several members have already called for continuity.

Russia’s ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said last week that the mandate should be renewed as is and that other countries had voiced the same view during a council discussion.

French Deputy Ambassador Anne Gueguen, whose country is in charge of drafting a proposed renewal, said it was “of paramount importance for the stability of Lebanon and the region, and in the best interest of all, that UNIFIL keeps its mandate and is in a position to fulfill it”.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS, AP)

Date created : 2017-08-30

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