The European Union has threatened to remove its troops from UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, unless the Lebanese government improves the security situation in the area.
The EU’s ambassador in Beirut, Angelina Eichhorst, recently told Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that unless Lebanon can make guarantees to safeguard the operational safety of its forces, the EU will withdraw from the UNIFIL coalition guarding the Israeli-Lebanese border, according to a EU source quoted by Maariv on Sunday.
The source said that the EU is deeply concerned about the situation in Syria and with Lebanon-based Hezbollah’s entanglement in the Syrian civil war.
“Hezbollah’s involvement in Syria has already affected a number of places in Lebanon, caused riots and deaths by gunfire. In the wake of the recent kidnapping carried out on the Syrian-Israeli border, we are not willing to take the risk,” the source said.
Last week, four UN peacekeepers from the UNDOF force on the Syrian side of the Golan were kidnapped by the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade, an Islamic faction of the Syrian opposition. They were unconfirmed reports Sunday morning that the four had been released and transferred to Israel. As a result of the kidnapping, the EU’s Foreign Affairs committee met to discuss the situation in Lebanon and decided to send an ultimatum to the Lebanese government.
The UNIFIL force was established in the late 1970s and most recently given a renewed mandate by UN Resolution 1701 in 2006, in the wake of Israel’s extensive strike against Hezbollah targets known as the Second Lebanon War. The international peacekeeping force, made up of troops mainly from European countries, has occasionally encountered difficulties or hostilities from villagers or Hezbollah operatives.
UN resolution 1701 determined that UNIFIL act as a supplementary force to the Lebanese military south of the Litani River, but Hezbollah has been the de facto military power in southern Lebanon ever since Israel dismantled its southern Lebanon defense zone in 2000, after 18 years of IDF presence there.
In early May, the Daily Star reported that a gradual withdrawal of Lebanese army forces from southern Lebanon has frustrated UNIFIL officers, because it has led to more confrontations with Hezbollah.