Security Council extends UNIFIL peacekeepers’ mandate, rejects Hezbollah demands

Resolution orders Lebanese groups to stop blocking movement of UN peacekeeping force; Israel calls on world to adopt ‘firm stand’ against terror group’s ‘provocations’

This picture taken from the village of Ghajar shows a vehicle of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) passing along the border fence separating Lebanon and Israel, on August 9, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
This picture taken from the village of Ghajar shows a vehicle of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) passing along the border fence separating Lebanon and Israel, on August 9, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The United Nations Security Council voted on Thursday to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, hours before it was due to expire.

The vote was 13-0, with permanent members China and Russia both abstaining.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, has sought to maintain calm in southern Lebanon since its creation in 1978, and is currently tasked with enforcing a UN resolution barring armed operations by Lebanese terror group Hezbollah near the ceasefire line that forms the de facto border.

The resolution approved by the Security Council demands that the Lebanese military and Hezbollah stop blocking the movement of the UN peacekeeping force and guarantee its freedom to operate, “including by allowing announced and unannounced patrols.”

Lebanese officials had pushed to remove a provision in the resolution, first introduced last year, that allows the peacekeepers to patrol without giving prior notice to the Lebanese army.

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hezbollah, said in a speech Monday that the provision is a violation of Lebanese sovereignty, and that the United States wants the UN peacekeeping force “to be spies for the Israelis.”

A UNIFIL vehicle patrols near a billboard with a portrait of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, in the southern town of Adaisseh, on August 30, 2023. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

But the council ignored the request, instead voting to strengthen last year’s text and reaffirming that under the agreement between the United Nations and the Lebanese government, the peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL “does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry welcomed the mandate renewal, saying that the UNIFIL force “aids in maintaining stability in southern Lebanon.” The ministry called on the international community “to take a firm stand against the attempts of the terrorist organization Hezbollah to create provocations and cause an escalation.”

Israel’s mission to the UN praised the vote as protecting UNIFIL’s freedom of action, allowing the peacekeepers to continue operating without coordination with the Lebanese army.

US envoy to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield expressed concern during the Security Council meeting over the activity of Green without Borders, an environmental organization seen by Israel, the US and others in the West as a cover for Hezbollah military activities along the border, noting that it was sanctioned by Washington earlier this month.

Illustrative: A UN Security Council meeting at United Nations headquarters in New York, January 12, 2023. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan praised the new mandate and pledged to continue demanding from Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah’s military buildup, “which could lead to a dramatic escalation in the region.”

Israel has repeatedly accused Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, of impeding UNIFIL peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate. Hezbollah battled Israel to a stalemate in a month-long war in 2006, and in 2019 Israel destroyed a series of what it said were attack tunnels dug under the border by Hezbollah.

Last year, a group of armed local residents ambushed a UNIFIL convoy and opened fire, killing an Irish peacekeeper. In June, Lebanon’s military tribunal charged five men with the killing, with a judicial official alleging that all five were linked with Hezbollah. The group has publicly denied any role in the killing.

UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops from southern Lebanon after a 1978 invasion. The mission was expanded after the 2006 war so peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades. That resolution also called for a full cessation of Israeli-Hezbollah hostilities, which has not happened.

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