UN renews Unifil mandate

The Security Council has unanimously voted to extend the peacekeeping mission along the restive Lebanese-Israeli border for another year.

BEIRUT // The United Nations Security Council has unanimously voted to extend the peacekeeping mission along the restive Lebanese-Israeli border for another year. The presence of 12,000 international soldiers under the command of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) is considered to be a key mechanism for maintaining a ceasefire put into place after the 2006 war between Israel and the militant Shiite movement, Hizbollah, which controls much of south Lebanon.

The Security Council said in a statement on Monday that co-operation between the Israeli military, Unifil and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), which had not been present along the border for more than 30 years until the 2006 ceasefire, has successfully established a "new strategic environment," but called upon all parties to continue monitoring and preventing ceasefire infractions. Although the border has remained quiet in historic terms since the 2006 expansion of Unifil, which originally began its mission in the late 1970s, the LAF and the Israeli military engaged in a rare firefight in early August that left four people dead after Unifil's attempts to coordinate the removal of a tree from the Israeli side of the "blue line" border failed to prevent the Lebanese army from opening fire on Israeli forces.

Unifil has yet to publish an official report on the incident, which it investigated with the cooperation of both sides, but the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, revealed some of the preliminary findings in a statement. "Although the investigation by Unifil is ongoing," he said, "Unifil established that the trees being cut by the Israel Defence Forces are located south of the blue line, and that the Lebanese Armed Forces fired the first shot, although Unifil has not determined who initiated direct fire."

The LAF admits to having first fired warning shots at the Israeli troops clearing the tree but claims Israeli forces responded with artillery and heavy machine gunfire, which sparked a broader gun battle. The IDF denies firing first, claiming its soldiers were immediately targeted by LAF snipers without warning. @Email:mprothero@thenational.ae