YARZE, Lebanon: Lebanese Army commander Gen. Jean Kahwagi expressed his gratitude to a room of United Nations officials and peacekeepers at the Officers Club in Yarze Wednesday.
“Your presence among us during the hard and dark days reminded the whole world about the existence of this small country when the Lebanese people felt abandoned,” Kahwagi said in a ceremony organized in honor of UNIFIL and the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization.
Speaking to a crowd that included U.N. Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly, UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra and the UNTSO chief of staff Maj. Gen. Michael Finn, Kahwagi thanked UNIFIL and UNTSO for their history of coordination with the Army.
“On behalf of the entire Lebanese people, particularly the residents of the south, who have suffered through bad and unjust circumstances, the Lebanese Army expresses its gratitude for your work and sacrifices and affirms its commitment to keep on working with you to protect Lebanon,” Kahwagi said.
“Since your arrival in 1978 to this day, our successive governments have confirmed their abidance to Resolutions 425 and 1701 which you are endeavoring to implement as an International Force with the cooperation of the Lebanese Army.”
UNIFIL has been operating in Lebanon since 1978 with the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 425 and 426, to confirm Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon.
The mandate of the international troops was adjusted twice due to the Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982 and after their withdrawal in 2000.
The deployment of the UNIFIL in Lebanon was further enhanced in 2006 following the July War that pitted Hezbollah against Israel, expanding the mandate of the international troops to include monitoring the cessation of hostilities and other tasks.
“I am glad we have been able to help with the strong support of the Security Council, secretary-general and the International Support Group in encouraging additional international assistance for the Army to enable it to meet challenges,” he said.
Finn also paid tribute to UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra, who is planning to leave Lebanon this year and hailed his efforts in overseeing the international troops.
“It may be early to bid farewell but this is a good opportunity to recognize his unique contribution in the United Nations and the relationship of trust which exists between us,” he said.
Addressing the crowd, Plumbly praised the Army’s recent performance setting up security plans in Beirut, Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley.
For his part, Serra praised the Army for achieving “important victories against terrorists” recently.
Before the ceremony, at 11:40 a.m. Israeli military planes violated Lebanese airspace.
The planes flew at medium altitude over Tyre and Sidon, the state-run National News Agency reported Wednesday.
Israeli jets violate Lebanese airspace regularly, despite Lebanese complaints to the U.N.