UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission, urges full access to Blue Line
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UN extends Lebanon border peacekeeping mission, urges full access to Blue Line

Security Council warns rising tensions can lead to war neither side can afford, orders review of UNIFIL amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah rendering Blue Helmets ineffective

Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)
Soldiers of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol a road in the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila along the border with Israel on August 29, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

The UN Security Council on Thursday voted to renew its long-running peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for a year, warning of a “new conflict” with neighboring Israel as tensions with the Hezbollah terror group spike.

The draft resolution, written by France and approved unanimously, would allow for the approximately 10,000 members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, to stay in place. It also calls for a review of the peacekeeping mission, amid Israeli concerns that Hezbollah and Lebanon “continue to significantly hinder the full and effective implementation” of the Blue Helmets’ mandate.

“Should these restrictions remain, UNIFIL’s relevance is questioned,” Israel’s Foreign Ministry said

According to the draft text, the Security Council warned that “violations of the cessation of hostilities could lead to a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford.”

Military vehicles belonging to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) drive past posters of the Lebanese Shiiite Hezbollah movement leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on a road near the southern Lebanese town of Marjayoun, on August 26, 2019. (Mahmoud ZAYYAT / AFP)

It “condemns all violations of the Blue Line” between Lebanon and Israel, “both by air and ground, and strongly calls upon all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities.”

IDF soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, and an armed drone attack on Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, which has been blamed on Israel.

Lebanese president Michel Aoun said the Beirut incident amounted to a “declaration of war,” and on Wednesday the Lebanese army fired on an Israeli drone in the southern part of the country.

“Urging all parties to make every effort to ensure that the cessation of hostilities is sustained,” the Security Council called on all sides to “exercise maximum calm and restraint.”

Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon, whose term at the world body was recently extended, praised the Security Council decision, which he said “sends a clear message to the Lebanese government: restrain Hezbollah.”

“The terrorist organization’s grip on southern Lebanon is intended to only harm the State of Israel and endanger the entire region. Israel will not accept such a reality,” he said.

A picture taken on August 26, 2019, near the northern Israeli moshav of Avivim shows a Hezbollah flag in the Lebanon village of Aitaroun. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The resolution includes a requirement — on the insistence of the United States, diplomats said — for the UN secretary-general to perform an evaluation on the UNIFIL mission and its staff before June 1, 2020.

Also at the US’s request, the Security Council resolution calls for UNIFIL to have full access to the Blue Line, where Israel recently said it discovered a network of cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah.

A picture taken from the southern Lebanese village of Meiss al-Jabal on December 16, 2018, shows Israeli soldiers watching as United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) soldiers speak with Lebanese soldiers in front of a Hezbollah flag. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

The resolution expresses “concern that UNIFIL still has not been able to access all relevant locations north of the Blue Line related to the discovery of tunnels crossing the Blue Line.”

Washington was unable, however, to reduce the maximum allowed number of peacekeepers deployed to 9,000.

Israel had been seeking to expand the mandate of the mission, giving it more access to areas in Lebanon and allowing it to report infractions in real time, according to a Hebrew-language report Wednesday.

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