NAQOURA, Lebanon: The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon announced Wednesday that it had requested the use of an airport at a military base in the Bekaa Valley to evacuate personnel should they need urgent medical attention.
UNIFIL asked the Lebanese Army for the use of the airport at the military base of Riyaq, a village in the Bekaa Valley, spokesman Andrea Tenenti told a news conference at the organization’s headquarters in Naqoura.
The spokesman stressed that the request was not related to local and regional developments, denying media reports that the move might signal possible changes to UNIFIL’s mandate in Lebanon.
Tenenti added that the mandate was stated clearly by the U.N. Security Council, and UNIFIL was not authorized to alter it.
“We focus on carrying out our mandate within our jurisdiction in south Lebanon and more specifically between the Blue Line and Litani River,” he said.
In the aftermath of the 2006 war with Israel, UNIFIL was beefed up to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon and assist the government in restoring authority in the area as stipulated by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which put an end to the war.
“Within the cooperation and coordination process with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL is setting urgent plans to carry on such evacuations because such activities lie within the duties of the international forces,” he added.
He said these “urgent plans” required allocating certain places from which medical evacuations were allowed, noting that there were at least two places for medical evacuation in Beirut, located at St. Georges (Al-Roum) hospital and the seaside hotel St. Georges.
When asked about the services UNIFIL’s mandate allowedthe task force to offer to Syrian refugees, Tenenti said the peacekeepers were offering various kinds of aid to the Syrians within their jurisdiction, stressing that these services were offered to refugees regardless of their nationality, religion or sect.
He emphasized that “they offer help to whoever is in need in line with [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 1701,” noting that there were several UNIFIL contingents which were also offering medical help and assistance.
Referring to the relationship between UNIFIL and local residents in some villages where international peacekeepers have been subject to attacks, Tenenti said: “We have excellent relationships with the local villagers, but sometimes problems occur and we manage to resolve it with our strategic allies in the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces].”
He stressed that “UNIFIL has no activity of any kind in Syria.”