US says UN Lebanon commander ‘blind’ to Hezbollah arms
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'He seems to be the only person in south Lebanon who is blind'

US says UN Lebanon commander ‘blind’ to Hezbollah arms

Ambassador Nikki Haley accuses 10,500-strong UNIFIL force of ‘not doing its job effectively’

United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks to reporters at U.N. headquarters, Friday, Aug. 25, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

UNITED NATIONS, United States (AFP) — The United States blasted the commander of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon on Friday, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

US ambassador Nikki Haley 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.

A tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terror group shows one of the group's fighters standing next to an artillery gun in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon, August 2, 2017.  (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)
A tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah terror group shows one of the group’s fighters standing next to an artillery gun in a mountainous area around the Syrian town of Flita near the border with Lebanon, August 2, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / LOUAI BESHARA)

Asked about Haley’s sharp criticism, United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric said of Beary “we have full confidence in his work.”

Haley was speaking at UN headquarters as member states debate the future of UNIFIL, which is deployed to keep the peace on Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.

This file photo taken on July 19, 2016 shows Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Michael Beary of Ireland (AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD ZAYYAT)
This file photo taken on July 19, 2016 shows Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Michael Beary of Ireland (AFP PHOTO / MAHMOUD ZAYYAT)

The existing mandate, last modified in 2006, expires at the end of the month, and the United States would like to see its language toughened.

Washington wants the UN force to take a tougher line on Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shiite armed movement that is represented in Lebanon’s government.

Israel alleges that Hezbollah is restocking its arms dumps and missile batteries in southern Lebanon, under the eyes of Blue Helmet peacekeepers.

But Russia, which is allied with Iran and thus with Hezbollah in support of regime forces in the conflict in neighboring Syria, wields a UN Security Council veto.

And US allies France and Italy, which have hundreds of soldiers in the UN force that would be in danger if it clashed with the militia, are also concerned.

“Since 2006 there has been a massive flow of illegal weapons to Hezbollah, mostly smuggled in by Iran,” Haley alleged.

“They openly threaten Israel. Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that is very destabilizing to the region.”

Haley said the mandate obliges UNIFIL to work with the Lebanese Armed Forces to disarm illegal groups and that she would seek to underline this in the renewal.

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