Israel could complete Lebanese withdrawal by Saturday - UN Force Commander

UNIFIL troops at work observing Section 83 near the Blue Line on the border between Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon, 29 August 2006. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

The commander of United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon held talks with senior Lebanese and Israeli military officers today with a view to completing by Saturday Israel’s withdrawal from all the positions it occupied in its northern neighbour during last month’s fighting with Hizbollah.

“We had a constructive meeting today,” UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander Major-General Alain Pellegrini said after the talks, which discussed both Israel’s withdrawal and the deployment of the Lebanese army in the area.

“It is my belief that with the necessary cooperation by both parties we should see the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) leave South Lebanon by the end of this month,” he added.

Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the 34 days of fighting between Israel and Hizbollah, mandates strengthening UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan has said it is generally understood that Israel will completely withdraw once the UN Force reaches 5,000, a step achieved last week, and the Lebanese army is ready to deploy at the full strength.

Maj.-Gen. Pellegrini has held regular talks with the parties, and last Friday he announced the Israeli withdrawal from two more border areas.

A further batch of new UNIFIL personnel is expected in the coming weeks while next week, the first German ship of what is to become the Force’s naval contingent is expected to arrive. The German contingent is to include two frigates, as well as some smaller patrol boats.

In another development related to Lebanon, the Security Council yesterday received the latest report from the International Independent Investigation Commission examining last year’s assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 other people.

In transmitting the report to the Council, the Secretary-General in an accompanying cover letter, said that it “highlights the Commission’s steady advancement in its investigations, despite experiencing difficulties in accessing witnesses and information as a result of the conflict in Lebanon,” a UN spokesman told reporters today in New York.

The Commission’s Chairman, Serge Brammertz, will discuss the report with the Council in an open briefing this Friday, the spokesman added.

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