Three days after a United Nations post in Lebanon was destroyed during an Israeli bombardment, leaving four dead, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has decided to temporarily move unarmed observers into more secure positions.
The decision was made to move members of the Observer Group Lebanon (OGL) from patrol bases in the Marwahin and Markaba area into more secure UNIFIL positions as the mission reports increasingly intense exchanges of fire along the Blue Line of withdrawal between Israel and Lebanon. There were two direct hits on its bases in the past 24 hours from the Israeli side, and Hezbollah fired from the vicinity of five of its positions.
Beside the fatal attack on the patrol base at Khiyam, a military observer was seriously wounded by Hezbollah small arms fire on Sunday, and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jane Holl Lute told the Security Council on Wednesday that observers may need to be consolidated to minimize further risk.
Despite the risks, however, all other UNIFIL positions remain occupied and maintained by its troops, the mission said, adding that the number of troops in some Ghanaian battalion positions is somewhat reduced due to frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing and Israeli bombardment in their vicinity.
With the mandate of UNIFIL expiring in three days, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in his most recent report that the upsurge in violence since 12 July had “radically changed the context” in which the mission operates and he recommended its mandate be renewed only for another month while all possible options for southern Lebanon are worked out.
Before the recent violence, the Lebanese Government had called for a six-month extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, but Mr. Annan wrote that currently the “circumstances conducive to United Nations peacekeeping do not exist.” Council members yesterday received a draft resolution, submitted by France, for the one-month extension.
Meanwhile, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has organized, for Monday, a technical-level meeting for potential troop contributors to a possible stabilization force in Lebanon, which had been proposed by Mr. Annan and British Prime Minister Tony Blair early in the current crisis and which has been slowly gaining acceptance among the international community as the carnage grinds on.
However, speaking to reporters at UN Headquarters today, Mr. Annan said that he could not expect States to make commitments to the new force until a political agreement is reached. Until that time, he reiterated his call for an immediate cessation of violence to end the horrific toll on civilians.