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UNIFIL Background.

In the early 1970s, tension along the Israel-Lebanon border increased, especially after the relocation of Palestinian armed elements from Jordan to Lebanon. Palestinian commando operations against Israel and Israeli reprisals against Palestinian bases in Lebanon intensified. On 11 March 1978, a commando attack in Israel resulted in many dead and wounded among the Israeli population. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) claimed responsibility for that raid. In response, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon on the night of 14/15 March, and in a few days occupied the entire southern part of the country except for the city of Tyre and its surrounding area.

On 15 March 1978, the Lebanese Government submitted a strong protest to the Security Council against the Israeli invasion, stating that it had no connection with the Palestinian commando operation. On 19 March, the Council adopted resolutions 425 (1978) PDF Document and 426 (1978) PDF Document, in which it called upon Israel immediately to cease its military action and withdraw its forces from all Lebanese territory. It also decided on the immediate establishment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with three broadly defined purposes: confirming the withdrawal of Israeli forces; restoring international peace and security; and assisting the Government of Lebanon in ensuring the return of its effective authority in the area. The first UNIFIL troops arrived in the area on 23 March 1978.

«The swift and effective deployment of the expanded UNIFIL and its activities since than have been critical in establishing a new strategic military and security environment in southern Lebanon.»

Lebanon invaded again

In June 1982, after intense exchange of fire in southern Lebanon and across the Israel-Lebanon border, Israel invaded Lebanon again, reaching and surrounding Beirut. For three years, UNIFIL remained behind the Israeli lines, with its role limited to providing protection and humanitarian assistance to the local population to the extent possible. In 1985, Israel carried out a partial withdrawal, but it retained control of an area in southern Lebanon manned by the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) and by Lebanese de facto forces (DFF), the so-called "South Lebanon Army" (SLA).

Over the years, the Security Council maintained its commitment to Lebanon's territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence, while the Secretary-General continued his efforts to persuade Israel to leave the occupied zone. Despite the impasse, the Council has repeatedly extended the mandate of UNIFIL at the request of the Government of Lebanon and on the recommendation of the Secretary-General.

Israeli withdrawal

On 17 April 2000, the Secretary-General received formal notification from the Government of Israel that it would withdraw its forces from Lebanon by July 2000. Starting on 16 May, much sooner than anticipated, IDF/DFF began to vacate its positions, amid exchange of fire. On 25 May, the Government of Israel notified the Secretary-General that Israel had redeployed its forces.  On 16 June, the Secretary-General reported to the Security Council PDF Document that Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon in conformity with the line identified by the United Nations; DFF had been dismantled; and all detainees held at Al-Khiam prison had been freed.

Following the Israeli withdrawal, the situation in the area of UNIFIL operation remained generally quiet. The Lebanese army, gendarmerie, and police established checkpoints in the vacated area, controlling movement and maintaining law and order. UNIFIL monitored the line of withdrawal on a daily basis, patrolled the area and, together with the Lebanese authorities and provided humanitarian assistance to local population.

In his 20 July 2000 report PDF Document, the Secretary-General stated that southern Lebanon had seen dramatic change and that after more than two decades the guns had fallen silent. He warned, however, that while there had been enormous improvement, the situation in the Israel-Lebanon sector fell well short of peace, and the potential for serious incidents still existed.

New crisis erupts

Until July 2006, despite numerous minor violations of the withdrawal line, the so-called Blue Line, including sea and air violations, and occasional breaches of the ceasefire, some of them very serious, the situation in the area remained relatively calm. The focus of UNIFIL operations remained on the Blue Line and the adjacent area, where the Interim Force sought to maintain the ceasefire through patrols, observation from fixed positions and close contact with the parties. The mission continued to provide humanitarian assistance to local population. Clearance of mines and unexploded ordnance in southern Lebanon also gained additional momentum.

However, as it had been demonstrated more than once over the years, periods of quiet along the Blue Line were often followed by episodes of hostilities, with one of the incidents across the Line resulted in the killing and wounding of United Nations military observers.  Tensions between the parties did not at any point appreciably diminish.  Hostile rhetoric remained the norm, and stability continued to be threatened.

New hostilities on the Israeli-Lebanese border started on 12 July 2006 when Hizbollah launched several rockets from Lebanese territory across the Blue Line towards IDF positions and in the area of the Israeli town of Zarit. In parallel, Hizbollah fighters crossed the Blue Line into Israel, attacked an Israeli patrol and captured two Israeli soldiers, killed three others and wounded two more.

Subsequent to that attack, a heavy exchange of fire ensued across the Blue Line. Hizbollah targeted IDF positions and Israeli towns south of the Blue Line. Israel retaliated by ground, air and sea attacks. In addition to air strikes on Hizbollah positions, the IDF targeted numerous roads and bridges in southern Lebanon, within and outside the UNIFIL area of operations.

As conflict between Israel and Hizbollah erupted, the Secretary-General maintained regular contact with the Prime Ministers of Lebanon and of Israel, as well as other relevant actors and concerned parties. He repeatedly called for an immediate cessation of hostilities, for the sake of the civilian population on both sides.

The new hostilities had radically changed the context in which UNIFIL operated. The Force continued to occupy all of its positions and played an active and constructive role under its mandate. Despite being severely impeded by ongoing violence, UNIFIL peacekeepers conducted military observations, assisted in humanitarian efforts and provided medical assistance, all at great risk. The intense fighting in July and August injured 16 United Nations staff, and tragically caused the death of five.

On 11 August 2006, the Security Council, following intense negotiations, passed resolution 1701 (2006) PDF Document calling for a full cessation of hostilities in the month-long war based upon, in particular, “the immediate cessation by Hizbollah of all attacks and the immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations” in Lebanon, and called on both Israel and Lebanon to support a permanent ceasefire and comprehensive solution to the crisis. By resolution 1701, the Council has significantly enhanced UNIFIL (from about 2,000 troops just before the war to the authorized level of 15,000 military personnel) and expanded its original mandate. For the first time, the Council also decided to include the Maritime Task Force as part of UN peacekeeping operation

Expanded UNIFIL deployed

Following the cessation of hostilities, the gradual withdrawal of the IDF forces and deployment of Lebanese troops, the first elements of the expanded UNIFIL were deployed with record-breaking speed for any peacekeeping operation of such complexity, with battalions from France, Italy and Spain arriving to the area of operation by 15 September, and joining the contingents already in place from Ghana and India.

The swift and effective deployment of the expanded UNIFIL and the activities that the Force undertakes since then on a daily basis have been critical in preventing a recurrence of hostilities across the Blue Line and have helped to establish a new strategic military and security environment in southern Lebanon.

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