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UN urges Lebanon to probe peacekeeper attack

January 7, 2022 at 1:58 pm

United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) vehicles patrol the Lebanese southern coastal area of Naqura by the border with Israel, on October 11, 2020 [MAHMOUD ZAYYAT/AFP via Getty Images]

A group of unknown perpetrators attacked United Nations peacekeepers in southern Lebanon on Tuesday night, according to a UN official.

The ‘blue helmets’ had their vehicles vandalised and official items stolen in the southern town of Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold.

During a media briefing in New York yesterday, UN spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, urged authorities in Lebanon to “conduct a quick and thorough investigation” into the attack and “prosecute all those responsible for these crimes.”

Dujarric said that the peacekeepers were on their way to meet Lebanese Armed Forces for a routine patrol. He noted that “contrary to some subsequent media disinformation” the group were not on private property or taking photos.

He added that the denial of UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and any aggression against those serving the cause of peace was “unacceptable” and violated the Status of Forces Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon, which stipulates that peacekeepers have full and unimpeded access throughout its area of operations.

Relations between civilians and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL) have remained tense and clashes are not uncommon in the southern region of the country after the peacekeeping force’s mandate and budget was greatly expanded in response to the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. The number of personnel stationed in the region now stands at around 10,000.

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Patrols by UNIFIL have intensified over the past 12 months, likely adding to existing tensions between locals and peacekeepers.

Tuesday’s attack follows a similar incident in December 2021 where a battalion of UNIFIL forces had their vehicles pelted with rocks by locals of a southern Lebanese town. Residents reportedly became angry at peacekeepers after claiming they had taken pictures of private areas. In response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that they “regretted” the incident, and “does not accept any form of transgression against the UNIFIL forces.”

Questions over UNIFIL’s powers have come under debate in recent years. During a vote in August 2020 to renew its mandate for another year, the USA threatened to veto the renewal resolution unless amendments were made to expand its powers to more effectively disarming Hezbollah and securing a weapons-free zone established between the Blue Line and the Litani River. However, the mandate remained unchanged following recommendations from the remaining UN Security Council members that upholding the status quo was a more urgent priority.