Beirut — Lebanon’s government agreed on Friday to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon along the border with Israel for another year, the country’s information minister said.
The extension of the peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, comes as Israel is calling for major changes in the way the mission operates on the ground in southern Lebanon. Israel is demanding that it have access to all sites and freedom of movement and that it report back to the UN Security Council if it is being blocked.
The decision to extend the term of UNIFIL also comes amid rising tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border in recent weeks.
On Friday, Israeli troops fired warning shots toward a shepherd on the edge of the Israeli Shebaa Farms, and arrested three suspects caught trying to cross the border in an incident that did not appear to be terror-related.
Last month, Israeli troops and Lebanese army soldiers faced off near the border in a highly irregular incident, with photos from the scene showing the two sides raising weapons at each other and UNIFIL personnel standing in between.
Lebanese Information Minister Manal Abdul-Samad told reporters after a Cabinet meeting that the government has agreed to extend the term of the UN force until Aug. 31, 2021.
The announcement came two days after Prime Minister Hassan Diab visited UNIFIL’s headquarters where he described the presence of the force in the volatile area as a necessity.
The government’s decision comes amid the backdrop of a war of words between Israeli and Lebanese officials, and the Hezbollah terror group, over the mandate of UNIFIL. The force has been deployed in southern Lebanon since an Israeli invasion in 1978.
The quibble over the UNIFIL mandate comes up every year before the mandate is typically renewed in the summer.