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UNIFIL: Hezbollah not present south of Litani
Francois voiced fear that the unrest in Syria could spill over into Lebanon.
Francois voiced fear that the unrest in Syria could spill over into Lebanon.
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TYRE, Lebanon: The commander of the French contingent of the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon said Sunday that Hezbollah was not active south of the Litani River and that only the Lebanese Army and peacekeeping troops were operating there.

Col. Phillip Francois also emphasized that maintaining peacekeeping troops along the border was necessary to prevent an outbreak of violence, adding that the situation in the south would be dangerous without UNIFIL.

“The presence of UNIFIL is a necessity to stop tension from escalating and to stop any renewal of violence,” said Francois.

During a lunch in honor of a number of journalists at the headquarters of France’s peacekeeping troops in Deir Kifa near Tyre, the colonel said that the Lebanese Army had full willingness and determination to extend the country’s sovereignty over all its territories.

“This is what we have seen through our joint military maneuvers with the Army ... This Army has determination and will. It only requires modern equipment,” Francois said.

Francois expressed his fear that the unrest in Syria could spill over into Lebanon and that the country might also be affected from the ongoing tension between Israel and Iran over the latter’s alleged nuclear program.

“In such a scenario, UNIFIL will adhere to U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 in its response ... This means we won’t respond to any aggression because such a measure would require offensive equipment that the resolution does not ensure,” he said.

“It would have been possible to respond if UNIFIL’s mandate had been placed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Security Council under which peacekeeping would be enforced by all means,” said Francois.

But Francois said that the Lebanese political parties would not let the country become a victim of regional tension because such a development would stand in the way of their own interests.

“Everyone, including Hezbollah, which is part of the government, does not see their interests in a security chaos. On the global level, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the European Union also want Lebanon away from the Syrian crisis,” he added.

The French colonel also rejected claims by some residents of south Lebanon that UNIFIL spied for Israel. “There was some misunderstanding with the local population in the first period of our mandate ... When some people saw UNIFIL troops taking pictures, they thought we are spying for Israel when the photographs were just for personal memories,” said Francois.

“Everyone knows well that this is not the way to spy on a country when there are highly advanced satellites that take clear and more detailed photographs of the area.”

Francois also voiced hope that investigations into last year’s attacks on UNIFIL troops that injured six French soldiers would reach a conclusion.

A roadside bomb near the southern city of Tyre ripped through a French UNIFIL patrol and wounded five French peacekeepers and a Lebanese civilian. The attack was the third of its kind in the same year. The Italian contingent of the peacekeeping forces was also targeted by the attacks.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 03, 2012, on page 4.
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