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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Monitor: UN peacekeepers in Lebanon co-opted by Hizbullah

NICOSIA — A consultant to the United Nations said its peace-keeping force in Lebanon has been effectively paralyzed.

An independent monitoring group, registered as a consultant to the UN, said UNIFIL could not act without permission of Hizbullah and the Lebanese government it now controls.

"They [UNIFIL] mustn't accept Hizbullah blackmailing," Toni Nissi, general coordinator of the Lebanese Committee for UN Security Council Resolution 1559 said.

[On Aug. 19, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would lift any limitations on military operations should Lebanon turn into what he termed a Hizbullah state. Olmert said Israel had restrained itself during the 2006 war with Hizbullah to avoid damage to Lebanon.]

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In a briefing on Aug. 16, Nissi said UNIFIL has become a hostage of Hizbullah. He said the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora has refused to grant permission to UN peace-keepers to halt Hizbullah weapons smuggling or deployment south of the Litani River, a key element of Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Israeli-Hizbullah war in 2006.

"1701 also calls for the implementation of [Security Council resolution] 1559, especially the disarmament of the militias, and calls for sealing the border between Lebanon and Syria and forbidding the entering of arms and weapons via the border, especially to Hizbullah," Nissi said.

"So Hizbullah is violating 1701 big time, and not only by hiding its weapons in warehouses in the south. Also, we haven't seen any weapons coming out of the south after the war of 2006. So did Hizbullah throw its weapons used in the 2006 war into the sea?"

The monitoring group, with representatives in Lebanon and other countries, disputed an assertion by UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano that Hizbullah was honoring resolution 1701. Graziano also said UNIFIL maintained excellent relations with the militia.

"Is the UNIFIL mandate to coordinate with Hizbullah or to kick Hizbullah out south of the Litani?" Nissi responded.

Former UNIFIL adviser Timor Goksel said the 13,500 international peace-keeping force has sought to avoid friction with Hizbullah. Goksel told a briefing in Beirut that Hizbullah has established a major presence in southern Lebanon.

"I know they are careful not to challenge UNIFIL and there is practically no visible Hizbullah fighter to be seen," Goksel said. "As far as UNIFIL is concerned, this is compliance."

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