With tensions rising high in Lebanon following Israel's attack on Beirut the UN is set to vote on renewing the mandate of UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon). During the vote this afternoon the Security Council is expected to review the size of the forces and allow cuts to be considered. While the mandate of the peacekeeping force is renewed every year, this is said to be the first time when such considerations are being made over its future role in Lebanon.
The peacekeeping force was set up in 1978 to oversee Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, restore international peace and security, and help the government in Beirut restore its effective authority in the area. It currently has a 10,500-member force and a $489 million budget. Its mission was expanded in 2006 following the war between Israel and Hezbollah to include the deployment of troops along the Lebanon-Israel border and supporting Lebanese troops to extend their authority.
According to the New York Times, a draft final agreement of UNIFIL's renewed mandate will seek a review on reducing troop numbers. Such a reduction is likely to be seen as a concession to the US and Israel. Both have been very critical of the peacekeeping force, claiming that peacekeepers have not carried out their duty to report the activities of Hezbollah as fully as possible.
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Elad Strohmayer, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, is quoted saying that "UNIFIL is unable to carry out the mandate," and that it "doesn't satisfy what [we] think is necessary to guarantee that UNIFIL operates as it should."
The vote comes as tensions rise to dangerous levels following skirmishes between Lebanon and Israel in recent days. The Lebanese army opened fire at two of three Israeli drones that breached Lebanese airspace yesterday evening in the south of the country near the Israeli border. Israel also raided a Palestinian group based in Lebanon's eastern region of Bekaa.
In a statement the same day, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri stressed that Israeli attack against the Palestinian group in Lebanon was a blow against the stable situation that has prevailed on the border since UN Resolution 1701 was passed in August 2006. "This threatens to escalate the situation in the region, with unpredictable results."
Hariri met with Arab envoys yesterday as part of efforts to reduce tension. The meeting, according to Arab News was attended by ambassadors from Oman, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Tunisia, Egypt, the UAE, Kuwait, Palestine and the chargé d'affairs of the Jordanian Embassy.