Rise in strident rhetoric in Israel and Lebanon concerns Secretary-General

UNIFIL Peacekeeper patrols the “Blue Line” that demarcates the border between Lebanon and Israel. UN Photo/E. Debebe

11 March 2010 – More than three years after the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a complete halt to fighting between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah, the situation in the region remains fragile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report, which also raises concerns over increasingly bellicose rhetoric warning of renewed fighting.

Resolution 1701, adopted by the Council in August 2006, called for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah, respect for the so-called Blue Line separating the Israeli and Lebanese sides, disarming of militias and an end to arms smuggling.

plementation, Mr. Ban writes that he is “pleased” by the parties’ continued commitment to the resolution. “The continued respect of the cessation of hostilities by Israel and Lebanon has provided for the most stable period in the relationship between the two countries for decades.”

But he warns that the fragility of the situation is exacerbated by ever more strident rhetoric, “which raises tensions and should be avoided,” as well as being in contravention of the spirit of the resolution.

The foundation for a permanent ceasefire has been laid by the new strategic environment and the relative stability in southern Lebanon, which the UN peacekeeping operation in the country (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Armed Forces help establish, the new report notes.

But the opportunity created by UNIFIL’s presence cannot be maintained indefinitely, it warns. “It is the responsibility of the parties to focus on all outstanding issues in order to reach a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution as envisaged” in the resolution.

Mr. Ban expresses his concern over Israel’s continued occupation of the north part of the village of Ghajar, north of the Blue Line, although it should have withdrawn in compliance with resolution 1701.

He also notes that Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) “continue to violate Lebanon’s sovereignty” and the resolution almost daily through overflights of Lebanese territory, creating “a tense situation” and the possibility of an incident which could escalate.

A further violation of the resolution was revealed when UNIFIL discovered weapons in its area of operations, he says. The UN regularly receives reports that Hizbollah has re-established its arsenal and military capabilities, both inside and outside UNIFIL’s area of operations.

The report also finds that the presence of armed groups in Lebanon, operating outside the State’s control, challenges its ability to exercise its full sovereignty and control over its territory in accordance with resolution 1701.

“As I have stated before, I believe that the disarmament of armed groups should be carried out through a Lebanese-led political process,” the Secretary-General says, calling on the Lebanese President to reconvene the National Dialogue to reach consensus on the national defence strategy.

“The situation prevailing between Lebanon and Israel, which is of the utmost relevance to the implementation” of the resolution, “is inevitably affected by regional dynamics,” especially the paucity of progress on the Middle East peace process.

Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams will brief the Security Council tomorrow on Mr. Ban’s report.

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