Lebanon News

UNIFIL will not deploy on Syrian border

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti poses for a picture, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

NAQOURA, Lebanon: UNIFIL will not be sent to Lebanon’s eastern border, spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said Friday, adding that the situation in south Lebanon was calm, as both Israel and Lebanon were interested in maintaining peace along the border. “UNIFIL has a very specific mandate: The mandate of UNIFIL is in the south of Lebanon between the Litani River and the Blue Line. So we have no role whatsoever in Syria or along the Syrian borders,” Tenenti told reporters.

“We are here at the request of the Lebanese authorities to implement our mandate with Security Council Resolution 1701, which is monitoring the cessation of hostilities [and] assisting the Lebanese Army in their deployment in the south.”

With the Syrian civil war in its fourth year and an increasingly restless and hostile militant presence – including ISIS and the Nusra Front – on the country’s eastern border, the March 14 coalition has requested that the peacekeeping force deploy there too.

But Tenenti emphasized that UNIFIL’s mandate was specifically related to the south of Lebanon. For him, changing the mandate meant changing the mission.

However, it may be a case of militants coming to UNIFIL. As winter approaches and jihadists holed up in the mountainous border lands search for supply routes and villages to inhabit, fears have intensified that they might try to attack the country’s southeast frontier.

“We have peacekeepers throughout our area of operations, from the Litani River to the [U.N.-demarcated] Blue Line. So whenever there’s something or some suspicious activity in the south of Lebanon, if our troops are on the ground, we will be immediately informed,” Tenenti said.

He explained that, as usual, they would also work with the Lebanese Army on any such case.

“I assure you that if peacekeepers are on the ground they will report any incident or any suspicious activity to the headquarters in UNIFIL.”

When asked whether peacekeepers belonging to countries helping bomb ISIS in Syria were at greater risk of attack or kidnap, he underlined that all members of UNIFIL were neutral, irrespective of whether their home country was participating in the U.S.-led coalition against the extremist group.

“All the countries that are working with UNIFIL, all the troops contributing countries that are giving troops to UNIFIL, are under U.N. mandate,” Tenenti said. “We have different countries but they wear the United Nations flag, so we only respond to the secretary-general of the United Nations and to the mandate of the United Nations.

“We had issues in the past when other countries were deciding on the national level about political issues, but in relation to UNIFIL and to ... contributing countries there’s only one agenda ... the U.N. agenda.”

Tenenti stressed that Israel and Lebanon were keen on maintaining stability along the borders, especially after a Hezbollah attack in the occupied Shebaa Farms earlier this month wounded two Israeli soldiers.

“I would like to say that the tripartite meeting has been very effective [and] is the only confidence building mechanism that the mission has in order to discuss issues related to violation with both parties,” he said in reference to a regular meeting attended by senior officers from the Lebanese and Israeli armies along with UNIFIL.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 25, 2014, on page 2.

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