Security Council votes to keep force in Lebanon
UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to keep peacekeepers in Lebanon for another 12 months, recognition that the country remains unstable more than a year after Israel’s war with Hezbollah.The force was deployed after the war to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into the south for the first time in decades, and create a buffer zone free of Hezbollah fighters.The resolution says the 13,600-strong U.N. force known as UNIFIL has helped 15,000 Lebanese troops establish “a new strategic environment” along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, although more needs to be done to clear the area of unauthorized fighters and weapons. It did not elaborate on either point.France’s deputy U.N. ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix, whose country sponsored the resolution, said the resolution “sends a message that “there is still a lot to do to achieve lasting stabilization in Lebanon.”U.S. Deputy Ambassador Alejandro Wolff expressed “deep concern about illegal weapons transfers across the Syrian-Lebanese border,” saying a June 24 bomb that killed six Spanish UNIFIL soldiers and a June 17 rocket attack against Israel demonstrate the need for all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias to be disbanded and disarmed.”Peace will never be secured until this call is met,” he said, urging Iran and Syria to honor an arms embargo.Syria and Iran have denied moving weapons into Lebanon, and Russia and South Africa objected to the U.S. raising what they called an unrelated issue. Lebanon’s U.N. envoy chose not to speak to the council or to reporters.Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Dan Gillerman, welcomed Friday’s resolution but expressed concern that major elements in the separate resolution that ended the war last year remain unresolved: the fate of two Israeli soldiers whose kidnapping sparked the conflict, and the continuing flow of arms and presence of Hezbollah fighters in the south.The Security Council expressed “grave concern” this month at reports of arms smuggling to Lebanon, but dropped a direct call to Syria and Iran to enforce a U.N. arms embargo. Instead, a council statement underscored the obligation of all countries, “in particular in the region,” to ensure that the embargo is not violated.Friday’s resolution calls on Israel and Lebanon to respect the cessation of hostilities agreed to in the resolution that ended the 34-day war, and the U.N.-drawn Blue Line boundary between the two countries. It said there was a need for greater progress to achieve a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution to the conflict.