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Lebanon rejects Israel push to reform UNIFIL peacekeeping force

UNIFIL peacekeepers from the Lebanese village of Adaisseh in Lebanon in 2 June 2020 [JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images]
UNIFIL peacekeepers from the Lebanese village of Adaisseh on Lebanon in 2 June 2020 [JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images]

Lebanon yesterday rejected an Israeli-led push to make reforms to the UNIFIL peacekeeping force which patrols the UN-demarcated Blue Line separating the countries who are technically still at war.

The latest call for reforming the peacekeeping force comes only days before the UN Security Council is set to vote on whether to renew the UNIFIL mandate on 31 August.

However, as early as May, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon said, in a video press briefing, that his government would demand major changes to UNIFIL before the force’s renewal later this month, the Associated Press reported.

Danon told reporters that Israel’s government, with US support, would insist on altering the way the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon operates by making the operation more efficient.

Israel, he added, would demand peacekeepers have access to all sites and inform the UN Security Council anytime they are blocked.

Danon later claimed Hezbollah had historically prevented UNIFIL peacekeepers from fulfilling their mandate by barring troops from entering some sites and restricting freedom of movement.

READ: Israel uses Beirut blast pretext to change mandate of UN force in Lebanon

US Ambassador to Lebanon, Dorothea Shea, meanwhile, admitted in comments earlier this year that she believed the UNIFIL mandate “is not being applied in its entirety”.

Adding, the international community needs “to think about improving UNIFIL’s efficiency, and if it fails to implement its mandate, questions must be asked about its effectiveness”, according to Lebanese daily L’Orient-Le Jour.

In the run-up to the vote, however, both Lebanese officials and Hezbollah have pushed for the renewal of the force without reforms.

“Lebanon is attached to renewing [the mission of] UNIFIL, without modifying its mandate or its numbers”, read a memorandum handed by Lebanon’s caretaker Foreign Minister Charbel Wahbe to the ambassadors of the UN security council’s five permanent members, according to a report by Agence France Presse.

The UNIFIL force, which now comprises more than 9,400 ground troops and over 850 naval personnel in a Maritime Task Force, was first established to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon after the 1978 invasion.

The peacekeeping force’s mandate was extended in 2006, after a 34-day war fought between Israel and Hezbollah and is renewed in a UN Security Council vote annually.

READ: Israel ready for confrontation with Lebanon, officials say

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