UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council reaffirmed its strong support Tuesday for Lebanon's political independence following a report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres who said "crises in the region continue to pose a risk to the stability" of the country.
In a report circulated this week, Guterres pointed to the sudden resignation — later rescinded — of Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri late last year while he was in Saudi Arabia as one crisis. It was widely seen as orchestrated by Hariri's Saudi backers, who complain that the Lebanese government is controlled by the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Guterres also reiterated his call to all Lebanese parties and individuals "to cease their involvement in the Syrian crisis."
Lebanon, with its own history of a 15-year civil war, has a fragile sectarian mix that supports both sides in the Syrian conflict. The country also hosts almost 1 million Syrian refugees.
But Guterres' message appeared clearly aimed at Hezbollah, which has been fighting alongside Syrian government forces.
Under a Security Council resolution passed in 2004, Lebanon's militias were told to disarm, but have not. Hezbollah has instead increased its weapons capacity.
Guterres said unauthorized weapons in the hands of Hezbollah militants "warrants condemnation."
He stressed that those weapons, together with "threatening rhetoric" from both Hezbollah and Israel, "heightens risks of miscalculation and escalation into conflict."
"I call upon the parties to exercise restraint at all times," Guterres said.
He also expressed concern about the use of "bellicose rhetoric" between Lebanon and Israel, especially in a dispute over their exclusive economic zones — and plans for oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean.
U.N. peacekeepers have been in Lebanon since 1978 after Israel invaded parts of southern Lebanon.
Violence has broken out on several occasions since then, including major wars in 1982 and 2006. The 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah claimed the lives of more than 1,000 people on both sides.
A statement by the council after closed briefings by U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix and Acting Special Coordinator Pernille Dahler Kardel reiterated support for the 2004 resolution and disarmament of all militias.
The council backed efforts by Lebanese authorities "to restore normal functioning institutions" and hold legislative elections on May 6.
Guterres said he was "encouraged by signals of political will and determination to conduct parliamentary elections," which would be the first since 2009.