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United Nations peacekeepers put on protective gear before driving through the Kuneitra border crossing between Israel and Syria, in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights March 8, 2013. Israel voiced confidence on Thursday that the United Nations could secure the release of U.N. peacekeepers seized by Syrian rebels near the Golan Heights on Wednesday, signalling it would not intervene in the crisis. Israel captured the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally. REUTERS/Baz Ratner (POLITICS)

U.N. Peacekeepers in Lebanon Get Stronger Inspection Powers for Hezbollah Arms

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday voted to renew the peacekeeping mission in Lebanon for another year after addressing American and Israeli complaints that the force was ignoring a Hezbollah arms buildup near Israel’s border.

The vote came a day before the peacekeeping force’s mandate was to expire, which theoretically could have led to a suspension in operations or even withdrawal of its 10,500 soldiers, who come from 41 countries.

The force’s presence has helped keep the peace along the Israel-Lebanon border since the war between Israeli forces and Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, 11 years ago.

The annual renewal of the mandate for the force, known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or Unifil, had become a contentious issue in the council. It basically pitted the United States against members led by France, which has made significant troop contributions to Unifil.

The United States had insisted that Unifil must be more muscular in policing Hezbollah weaponry, and had suggested that it would not agree to renewing the mandate without significant changes.

France, along with other members, objected to any adjustments in Unifil’s role — authorizing its soldiers to inspect private homes, for example — that would be seen as infringing on Lebanon’s sovereignty.

They also argued that the resolution of 2006, which empowered Unifil’s border functions, already included language authorizing the force to “ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

Lebanon opposed any change in Unifil’s role, but wanted the force to remain in the country. “Preserving the mandate of @unifil is necessary for peace and stability, otherwise will jeopardize efforts of @UN,” the foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, said in a Twitter posting on Tuesday.

Under compromise language in a Security Council resolution reauthorizing the mandate, Unifil’s soldiers will play a greater role in assisting Lebanon’s military in keeping the border area secure. The resolution requests that Secretary General António Guterres examine ways to “increase Unifil’s visible presence, including through patrols and inspections.”

Both Israel and the United States have grown increasingly strident in recent days over what they have described as a blatant buildup of Iranian weaponry by Hezbollah in southern Lebanon including hidden rockets. They have accused Unifil of turning a blind eye to it.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said Iran was even building factories in Lebanon to make precision-guided missiles to threaten Israel.

Unifil has been deployed in Lebanon for nearly four decades but its mandate was widened to patrolling Lebanon’s border with Israel after the 2006 war between Israeli forces and Hezbollah.

Israel and the United States regard Hezbollah as a terrorist group, financed and armed by Iran, and sworn to Israel’s destruction.

The compromise language of the Unifil mandate renewal appeared to give all sides a way of saying they got what they wanted.

“The status quo for Unifil was not acceptable, and we did not accept it,” Ms. Haley said in remarks after the vote.

“This resolution demands that Unifil step up its efforts at a moment when Hezbollah is stepping up theirs,” she said. “Our action today will help ensure that this peacekeeping mission has the power and the will to do its job.”

Israel’s ambassador, Danny Danon, called the renewed mandate“a significant diplomatic achievement that could change the situation in southern Lebanon and expose the terror infrastructure that Hezbollah set up on the border with Israel.”

Source: New York Times

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