UN Security Council renews Lebanon peacekeeping mission after dispute

The vote, originally scheduled for Wednesday but postponed due to further negotiations, took place just a few hours before the mission’s authorization was due to expire.

The United Nations Interim power in Lebanon (UNIFIL), established since 1978, is tasked with creating a buffer between Israel and Lebanon, which are technically at war.

Thursday’s resolution passed by 13 votes with Russia and China abstaining, keeping the force in place until August 31, 2024.

The mandate is largely identical to last year’s agreement on allowing freedom of movement for the roughly 10,000 peacekeepers stationed in the country, a point disputed by both the Lebanese government and the powerful pro-Iranian Hezbollah group .

The text “urges all parties to ensure that UNIFIL’s freedom of movement in all its operations and UNIFIL’s access to the Blue Line in all its parts is fully respected and unimpeded.”

The so-called Blue Line refers to the border demarcated by the UN in 2000 after Israeli troops withdrew from southern Lebanon.

“UNIFIL does not require prior approval or authorization to carry out its assigned tasks and… UNIFIL is authorized to conduct its operation independently while continuing to coordinate with the Government of Lebanon,” the text read.

Secretary General of the UN Antonio Guterres has criticized UNIFIL’s inability to gain full access to certain areas, including sites of a Lebanese environmental NGO that the United States claims are a front for Hezbollah activities.

The head of the powerful Shiite armed group, Hassan Nasrallah, warned earlier this week against extending UNIFIL terms from 2022.

“A foreign force entering Lebanese territory without permission from the government and the Lebanese army, without coordination with the Lebanese army, where is the sovereignty in all this?” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

In a letter to the United Nations, the Lebanese government also called for a return to the 2021 terms of the force’s mandate, which placed less emphasis on the mission’s ability to move independently.

“Thursday’s text unfortunately did not reflect all our concerns,” said Lebanese UN representative Jeanne Mrad.

“This freedom of movement must be maintained, yes, but it must also involve controls,” she added.

Nevertheless, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati welcomed the renewal of the mandate.

The text “takes into account an important element requested by Lebanon, which is UNIFIL’s role to operate ‘in coordination with the Lebanese government’,” he noted in a statement.

Israel said on Thursday it “welcomes” the reauthorization.

“UNIFIL helps maintain stability in southern Lebanon,” the foreign ministry said. “We call on the international community to take decisive action against attempts by the Hezbollah terrorist organization to provoke and escalate (violence).”

UNIFIL was established in 1978 to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after they invaded Lebanon in retaliation for a Palestinian attack.

It was reinforced in 2006 after Israel and Hezbollah waged a 34-day war and is tasked with overseeing a ceasefire between the two sides.

Hezbollah is considered a “terrorist” organization by many Western governments. It is the only party that did not disarm after the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, and it is also a powerful player in Lebanese politics.

(AFP)

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