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UN renews mandate of peacekeeping force in buffer zone between Lebanon, Israel

Amid tensions over gas field and threats by Hezbollah, unanimous resolution extending UNIFIL deployment stresses ‘risk that violations… could lead to a new conflict’

Illustrative: A United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) convoy patrols next to Naqoura, in Lebanon near its border with Israel, October 13, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)
Illustrative: A United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) convoy patrols next to Naqoura, in Lebanon near its border with Israel, October 13, 2020. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

The Security Council on Wednesday renewed the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon for one year, and asked it to continue providing logistical support for the Lebanese armed forces for another six months.

The peacekeeping force, known by its acronym UNIFIL, has been in Lebanon since 1978. Composed of nearly 10,000 soldiers, it is deployed in the south of the country as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, which remain technically in a state of war.

At the request of the Lebanese authorities, the Security Council decided to extend its mandate until August 2023, expressing concern about “violations” of the ceasefire that ended fighting between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006 that were detailed in a report by the UN secretary-general.

The resolution adopted unanimously by the 15 members stresses in particular “the risk that violations of the cessation of hostilities could lead to a new conflict that none of the parties or the region can afford.”

Hezbollah and Israel have exchanged threats in recent weeks as tensions remain high over an Israeli gas rig in disputed waters. The US has been brokering talks between Jerusalem and Beirut over its maritime border dispute, with negotiations reportedly close to a resolution.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah has consistently threatened to target Israeli offshore installations. In July, the IDF said it downed three unarmed drones launched by the terror group at a gas rig in Karish.

Energean’s floating production system (FPSO) at the Karish gas field in the Mediterranean Sea. (Energean)

Last week Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Hezbollah that any attack on Israeli assets could spark war, after the terror group threatened to “sever” Israel’s hands if it taps the disputed offshore field.

In his report to the Council on Wednesday, Antonio Guterres noted that while the “underlying drivers of the conflict have not dramatically changed since 2006, UNIFIL does face new challenges in the conduct of its operations,” including restrictions on its freedom of movement.

At a time when the country is facing a deep economic crisis, he also points out that all state institutions “are overstretched by the financial conditions.”

That means the Lebanese army and other security forces are “especially critical for the country’s stability and require renewed political and material support,” he wrote.

The Security Council asked UNIFIL to support Lebanese armed forces for the first time last year. This provision to provide non-lethal equipment such as food, fuel, medicine, and logistical support was renewed for six months, until February 28, 2023.

But the resolution stressed that the support was “temporary” and “should not be considered as a precedent… nor a long term solution.”

Last week, UNIFIL complained that it has recently observed at least four illicit shooting ranges in its area of operations and has informed the UN Security Council.

Lebanon’s Armed Forces confirmed to UNIFIL that it did not operate the shooting ranges.

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