Security Council Extends Lebanon Peacekeeping Mission

The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Friday to extend the mandate of the 13,600-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon and called for a permanent cease-fire and long-term solution to last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.

The resolution adopted by the council emphasized the need for greater progress in resolving these and other issues stemming from the 34-day war which killed more than 1,000 people in Lebanon and 159 people on the Israeli side.

The Security Council reiterated its intention "to consider further steps to contribute to the implementation of a permanent cease-fire and a long-term solution."

Earlier this month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the council to extend the mandate of the force, known as UNIFIL, praising the troops for helping to establish security in southern Lebanon following the Israel-Hezbollah war.

The resolution commends UNIFIL's positive role, with Lebanese troops, in helping "to establish a new strategic environment in southern Lebanon." Members said they look forward to increased cooperation between the U.N. and Lebanese forces.

France's deputy U.N. ambassador Jean-Pierre Lacroix, whose country sponsored the resolution, said the vote reflects the council's full support for the force, adding that "UNIFIL continues to operate in a difficult and unstable environment."

The current mandate of the force — comprising 11,428 ground troops, 2,000 maritime personnel, 185 staff officers and 20 local staffers — expires Aug. 31.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora sent a letter asking the council to renew the mandate of the force for a year. The resolution extends the mandate until Aug. 31, 2008.

The U.N. force, along with 15,000 Lebanese troops, was deployed along Lebanon's border with Israel to enforce the Security Council resolution that ended the Israeli-Hezbollah war.

The resolution calls on all parties to respect the cessation of hostilities and the U.N.-drawn Blue Line boundary between Israel and Lebanon. The language was softened from an "appeal" to a "call" in the final text.

Earlier this month, the council expressed "grave concern" at reports of arms smuggling to Lebanon, but dropped a direct call to Syria and Iran to enforce a U.N. arms embargo. Instead, the statement underscored the obligation of all countries, "in particular in the region," to ensure that the arms embargo is not violated.

The council also expressed concern at allegations that Lebanese and other groups and militias are rearming, and voiced "deep concern" about recent statements by Hezbollah "that it retains the military capacity to strike all parts of Israel."

The resolution adopted Friday emphasized the need for further coordination between UNIFIL and the Lebanese army in the southern border region to establish "an area free of any unauthorized armed personnel, assets and weapons." It condemned all terrorist attacks on UNIFIL.

Ban's report cited "the vicious attack" on June 24 that killed six peacekeepers belonging to the Spanish contingent whose armored personnel carrier in southern Lebanon was struck by a bomb. It was the first such attack against UNIFIL.

U.S. deputy ambassador Alejandro Wolff said the attack against UNIFIL and the June 17 rocket attack against Israel "demonstrate that there are unauthorized armed elements and weapons in south Lebanon, and that they pose a danger both to regional stability and to the safety of U.N. personnel."

He urged U.N. and Lebanese troops to establish joint patrols to prevent weapons smuggling and called for full implementation of a 2005 resolution demanding that all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias be disbanded and disarmed, saying "peace will never be secured until this call is met."

Wolff also expressed "deep concern about illegal weapons transfers across the Syrian-Lebanese border" and urged Iran and Syria to honor a U.N. arms embargo.

Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador Igor Shcherbak welcomed the extension of the UNIFIL mandate, calling it "a great step towards strengthening the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon." At the same time, however, he said the question of the smuggling of weapons does not relate to the resolution.

South Africa's U.N. Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo also criticized the inclusion of "unrelated sensitive issues" in what should have been a technical resolution.