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UN Council at Odds Over Lebanon Plan   08/12 06:36

   

   UNITED NATIONS (AP) -- The U.N. Security Council remains at odds over the 
way the U.N. peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon operates on the ground, 
with the United States backing Israel's demands for major changes.

   At a closed council meeting Tuesday on the mission known as UNIFIL, whose 
mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month, U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft 
stressed the need for a new mandate.

   "The U.S. has long reiterated publicly and privately that the status quo in 
Lebanon is unacceptable," Craft said in a statement to The Associated Press 
after the meeting. "Now is the time to empower UNIFIL, end the long 
complacency, and enable the mission to fully achieve what it was set out to 
accomplish."

   But Craft faces an uphill struggle because most of the council backs a 
continuation of the current UNIFIL mandate.

   Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has written to the council calling for a 
12-month renewal of UNIFIL's mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining 
high troop strength.

   UNIFIL was created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after a 1978 
invasion. The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and 
Hezbollah militants so that 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.

   Germany's deputy U.N. ambassador Gnter Sautter told the council in remarks 
circulated by the country's U.N. mission that "recent tensions and the danger 
of escalation only underline the importance of UNIFIL presence on the ground." 
He said "the new political reality" since last week's devastating explosion at 
Beirut's port made it "more important than ever."

   "UNIFIL's mandate continues to be of utmost importance," Sautter said. "It 
is clear that UNIFIL will not be able to do more with less. We therefore fully 
support UNIFIL in its current mandate and strength, and we hope that the 
council will once more show unanimous support to this important mission."

   Israel has repeatedly accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah militants of impeding 
the peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

   Israel's former ambassador Danny Danon said in May that Israel will insist 
that peacekeepers have access to all sites, that they have freedom of movement 
and that any time they are being blocked the U.N. Security Council must be 
immediately informed.

   Craft said at that time that UNIFIL was being "prevented from fulfilling its 
mandate" and Hezbollah had "been able to arm itself and expand operations, 
putting the Lebanese people at risk."

   She said the Security Council "must either pursue serious change to empower 
UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually 
accomplish."

   France is expected sometime this week to circulate a draft resolution to 
continue UNIFIL's operations, and diplomats are predicting tough negotiations 
before the mandate expires on Aug. 31.

   As of June 15, UNIFIL comprised 10,275 military personnel from 45 
troop-contributing countries, 238 international civilian staff, and 580 
national civilian staff.

   Its Maritime Task Force comprised six vessels, two helicopters and 864 of 
the force's military personnel. However, one vessel was damaged in last week's 
deadly explosion and over 20 naval personnel were injured, two critically.

   Jan Kubis, the United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, and U.N. 
peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix briefed Tuesday's virtual council 
meeting.

   Kubis urged the rapid formation of a new government following Monday's 
resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Cabinet.

   The U.N. quoted him as telling the council: "There are immediate 
humanitarian needs that need to be addressed and necessary reforms that need to 
be undertaken without any delay to restore the trust of the Lebanese people, 
and of the international community in Lebanon."

 
 
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