Leader of Lebanese Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, has rejected US requests to empower a UN peacekeeping force patrolling the border with Israel, claiming the demands come indirectly from the self-declared Jewish state, not the international community, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
In a radio interview over the weekend to mark 20 years since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon, Nasrallah said: “The Americans, as the result of Israeli demands, are raising the issue of changing the nature of UNIFIL’s mission.”
Adding, “Lebanon has refused to change UNIFIL’s mission, but Israel wants… it to have the right to raid and search private properties, and the Americans are pressuring Lebanon on this matter.
The UN Security Council votes on the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate every year, and in August 2019 agreed an extension conditional on an evaluation of the mission and its staff before 1 June 2020, at the insistence of the United States, according to the AFP report.
In anticipation of the evaluation, on 6 May, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said his government will demand major changes to the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.
Israel has repeatedly claimed Hezbollah has prevented peacekeepers from performing their duties and have barred UNIFIL troops from entering some sites. Under new demands, Danon says Israel will request access to all sites with freedom of movement.
“We have seen that slowly there is less places that the troops in the peacekeeping operation can actually travel in southern Lebanon… so we want them to have full freedom of movement,” Danon said.
Adding, “we proved in the past that Hezbollah are digging tunnels, they are bringing weapons to the border, and only in the last few weeks have had a few incidents at the border.”
In early May, the US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, made similar claims, stating that UNIFIL has been “prevented from fulfilling its mandate”, and that Hezbollah had “been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk”.
Craft later called for the UN Security Council to “pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resource with tasks it can actually accomplish”.
Nasrallah, however, rejected the claims, saying: “The time of deeming Lebanon to be weak is over, and Israel cannot impose conditions on Lebanon even behind an American mask.”
UNIFIL was set up in 1978 and expanded after a 34-day war in 2006 fought primarily between Hezbollah and Israeli forces, to create a demilitarised zone on the border and monitor the ceasefire as the two countries technically remain at war.
The peacekeeping force can have up to 10,000 troops on the ground to monitor the truce and patrol the UN-demarcated Blue Line, which acts as a border between Lebanon and Israel.