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Lebanon hits out on behalf of Gaza; UNIFIL urges restraint

This week, Lebanon's border with Israel has seen escalating unrest agitated by the current aggression against Gaza. On Tuesday, Israel unleashed an artillery salvo on the outskirts of villages near the southern port city of Tyre. Inhabitants reported that the shelling took place around the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh, in the UN's supposedly "protected and peacekeeper area" between the two countries; alas the area witnessed attacks at an alarming rate of one shell per minute from 11pm until midnight.

The Israeli shelling came after two rockets were fired at Israel from the village of Mari in Hasbaya on Monday night, the fourth such attack, security sources reported. This was just two days after UN Israeli-Lebanese border security, UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), had urged caution and self-restraint on both countries.

The Speaker of the Lebanese parliament, Nabih Berri, argued recently that the firing of rockets into Israel "does not serve the Palestinian cause"; he sees it purely as an attempt to involve Lebanon in the conflict. "Our stance is well-known; we support Palestine and its cause and we have fought the Israeli enemy," Berri was quoted on Monday. He insisted, however, that the launching of rockets from Lebanon is "pointless" and "does not serve the fight against Israel." Instead he saw these attacks as a means to involve the self-regarded "safe haven" of Lebanon – at least compared to other countries in the Levant – and that it needs to stay out of the regional tumult. "Why do we want to bring ourselves trouble?" he asked.

In another recent statement, Berri compared the Palestinian resistance to the Lebanese version in its confrontation with the Israeli aggression. He warned the Lebanese and Palestinians to avoid being "distracted" by regional wars and turmoil, as he predicted that the region was facing conspiracies to divide it into smaller states.

"I would like to draw the Arab world's attention to the Palestinian cause and everything that is happening in the region," Berri began. "[These] wars only serve the interest of the enemy in order to exhaust our capabilities and cause us to neglect the Palestinian cause."

Future block leader Fouad Siniora MP said that Palestinians should "unite in the face of Israeli aggression" as a key to success, as the Lebanese stood united in the face of the same enemy in the 2006 war.

The Daily Star reported that the head of the Lebanese Forces had discussed with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "the dangerous developments on the ground" as well as the need for the Arab and international communities to exercise all means to end "the humanitarian crisis of the Palestinian people."

UNIFIL for peace?

According to an official UNIFIL statement, acting commander Brig. Gen. Tarundeep Kumar responded to the recent turmoil and contacted senior commanders of the Lebanese and Israeli armies straight away to "urge cooperation with UNIFIL, in order to prevent further escalation". UN Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly condemned the attacks and confirmed that UNIFIL would investigate with the Lebanese armed forces in order to prevent more attacks. Whilst the UN and the Lebanese prime minister agree that peace must be kept, the contested presence of the UN in the Arab world continues.

Despite 36 years of UN presence in South Lebanon, battles have been rife across the border and suspicion about the UNIFIL's neutrality continues, giving its arguably futile Lebanese-Israeli security measures a highly contested status. The recent attacks have pushed UNIFIL to tighten its meagre performance by strengthening cooperation with the Lebanese army.

Apart from its questioned peacekeeping function, many activists and politicians have suspected a certain bias within the UNIFIL mission. Middle East Monitor spoke to Timur Goksel, a former spokesperson and senior advisor to UNIFIL, about the legitimacy of this "peacekeeping force". He assured MEMO, "Although they [the two countries] know well the limitations of UNIFIL, they never give up trying to get the force to serve their own interests."

Apparently, if UNIFIL remains "neutral" and sticks to peacekeeping principles "then they are useless for the parties," Goksel argued. "For Israel, the only good UNIFIL is the one that will shoot anti-Israeli people." The UN force is welcome as long as it serves Israel's security interests, he added. Which it does, but "they will never admit it." This is the condition upon which "peace" on Israel's northern border rests.

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