Israel to press UN chief on peacekeeper ‘blindness’ in Lebanon
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Israel to press UN chief on peacekeeper ‘blindness’ in Lebanon

Secretary General Antonio Guterres will arrive Sunday evening for his first visit to Jewish state since assuming post

UN soldiers patrol on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel near Metula, in northern Israel, November 10, 2016. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)
UN soldiers patrol on the Lebanese side of the border with Israel near Metula, in northern Israel, November 10, 2016. (Doron Horowitz/Flash90)

Israel will press UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on what it says is Hezbollah’s arms buildup in Lebanon when he arrives Sunday evening for first visit to the Jewish state since taking office.

During the three-day visit, Guterres will hold talks with Israeli leaders, then travel to Ramallah to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and to the Gaza Strip, where the UN runs a major Palestinian aid program.

The trip comes as the UN Security Council debates renewing, for a year, the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, with a vote expected on August 30.

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blasted the commander of the UNIFIL peacekeepers on Friday, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley meets with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem. June 7, 2017. (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)
American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley meets with Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem. June 7, 2017. (Shlomi Amsalem/Foreign Ministry)

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely echoed Haley on Sunday.

“We shall not allow this blindness to continue,” she told Israel Radio.

Hotovely said that the deployment of the Hezbollah terror group along Lebanon’s border with Israel would be a “very central issue” in the discussions with Guterres.

“He will meet the head of military intelligence and receive a briefing, and also meet the prime minister, and I am sure that he will not leave here with the feeling that the mandate given to the UN is being implemented on the ground,” Hotovely said.

Haley had said the 10,500-strong UNIFIL force was “not doing its job effectively” and singled out its Irish leader, Major General Michael Beary.

“What I find totally baffling is the view of the UNIFIL commander General Beary,” Haley told reporters, accusing him of ignoring Hezbollah’s arms dumps. “General Beary says there are no Hezbollah weapons.”

“He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind. That’s an embarrassing lack of understanding on what’s going on around him,” she said.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in response that “We have full confidence in (the commander’s) work.”

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on climate change at the New York University Stern School of Business, in New York on May 30, 2017. (AFP/Jewel Samad)
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks on climate change at the New York University Stern School of Business, in New York on May 30, 2017. (AFP/Jewel Samad)

Guterres has told the Security Council that he intended to look at ways in which UNIFIL could beef up its efforts “regarding the illegal presence of armed personnel, weapons or infrastructure inside its area of operations.”

The secretary general will begin his trip with a Monday visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. He will then meet with President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and attend a special event at the Israel Museum, according to a statement from Israel’s UN ambassador Danny Danon.

On Tuesday, he will meet with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah, and on Wednesday will visit the Gaza Strip and Israeli communities along the border with the enclave.

Israel ambassador Danny Danon speaks outside the UN Security Council meeting on tensions in Jerusalem, July 24 2917. (Courtesy)
Israel ambassador Danny Danon speaks outside the UN Security Council meeting on tensions in Jerusalem, July 24 2917. (Courtesy)

The former prime minister of Portugal will wrap up his trip Wednesday with an address at the Tel Aviv Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the statement said.

Danon said he hoped the trip would reveal “the true face of Israel,” its accomplishments as well as its challenges.

Since taking over from Ban Ki-moon on January 1, Guterres has been cautious in his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, partly in response to US accusations that the United Nations was biased against Israel.

In March, Guterres demanded that a report by a UN body be withdrawn after it accused Israel of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians.

Guterres had initially distanced himself from the report, but the United States insisted that it be withdrawn altogether.

Israel has long alleged bias at the United Nations against it and also plans to discuss that with Guterres.

Hotovely said that, as a former prime minister of Portugal, Guterres has sharp political antennae and realizes that under the current US administration there may be a price to pay for what she calls a long tradition of “almost anti-Semitic” UN bias against the Jewish state.

“We find in him an understanding that his organization risks losing not only its credibility but also its funding from the world’s biggest and most important power, the United States,” she said.

“I very much hope that we shall see a change of direction in relation to Israel.”

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