The Security Council voted tonight to halt the deadly conflict that has engulfed Lebanon and northern Israel for the past month, passing a resolution that calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities followed by the deployment of Lebanese troops and a significantly expanded United Nations peacekeeping presence across southern Lebanon as well as the withdrawal of all Israeli forces from the same area.
In a unanimous vote, conducted after weeks of intensive diplomacy with Secretary-General Kofi Annan pushing for action, the 15-member Council called for Hizbollah to stop all attacks immediately and for Israel to cease “all offensive military operations.”
Welcoming the Lebanese Government’s plan to deploy 15,000 troops across the south of the country as Israel withdraws behind the Blue Line “at the earliest,” the Council backed the simultaneous deployment of a UN force with an enhanced mandate, equipment and scope of operation.
The expanded UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will be authorized to have a maximum of 15,000 peacekeepers and its mandate has been extended by 12 months until August next year. The mission will be tasked with monitoring the cessation of hostilities, helping to ensure humanitarian access to civilians and the safe return of displaced persons, and supporting the Lebanese armed forces as they deploy in the south and enforce their responsibilities under the resolution.
The Council said it reserved the right to make further enhancements to UNIFIL’s mandate in a later resolution.
Underlining its desire “to help secure a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution to the conflict,” the Council urged Israel and Lebanon to work towards those goals while respecting several principles, including:
Respect for the Blue Line; Ensuring the area between the Blue Line and the Litani river in southern Lebanon is free of any armed personnel and weapons other than those of the Lebanese armed forces and UNIFIL; and Full implementation of the relevant provisions of the Taif Accords, as well as resolutions 1559 and 1680, that require the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon. The text stressed the importance of not just ending the violence, but the causes that gave rise to the current crisis, including “the unconditional release of the abducted Israeli soldiers.”
It said the Council, “mindful of the sensitivity of the issue of prisoners,” encouraged efforts aimed at settling the issue of the hundreds of Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel.
Council members also emphasized how vital it is that the Lebanese Government is able to extend its authority across all of the country’s territory through the deployment of its armed forces.
The resolution also urged Member States to consider contributing to the expanded UNIFIL force while calling on the international community to offer financial and humanitarian aid to the Lebanese people, and to help displaced persons return safely to the country. The Secretary-General was asked to develop proposals within the next month on several issues, including the delineation of Lebanon’s border and the Shebaa farms area.
More than 1,000 people, nearly all of them civilians, have been killed in Lebanon and northern Israel, and many more people injured, since fighting broke out following Hizbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers on 12 July. As many as a quarter of Lebanon’s population have been forced to flee their homes.