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Tension At Israel/Lebanon Border Withdrawal Line


Extension For UN Lebanon Mission Urged As Tension Mounts At Withdrawal Line

Amid mounting tensions at the withdrawal line between Israel and Lebanon, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has recommended extending the UN force in the area for an additional six months.

Over the last two days, the situation has taken a turn for the worse marked by deadly violence. "It has been some 48 hours of increased tension and there have been a number of provocative acts during this time," Mr. Annan's Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, said today. He called on all parties "to exercise maximum restraint to restore calm and to abide by their commitments to maintain such calm."

On Monday, a car bomb in Beirut killed a Hezbollah official. The following morning, Hezbollah and Israeli military forces engaged in an exchange of fire which resulted in the deaths of two Israeli soldiers and one Hezbollah fighter. That evening, Israeli jets violated Lebanese airspace, including over Beirut, at low altitudes.

The flights created sonic booms which "caused great anxiety amongst the civilian population," the envoy said.

"As we have stated many times in the past, one violation does not justify another," Mr. de Mistura said. "Indeed, as we have seen, such actions lead to possible escalation which is clearly not in the interest of either party."

The Secretary-General cites the ongoing clashes in recommending that the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) be extended through January 2005, warning that "considerable risk remains that hostile acts will escalate and lead the parties into conflict."

He also appeals to all sides to rein in their forces. "I cannot stress enough the need for the parties to abide by their obligations under the relevant Security Council resolutions, to respect the withdrawal line in its entirety and to exercise the utmost restraint."

Mr. Annan voices deep concern that Israel "persists in its provocative and unjustified air violations of sovereign Lebanese territory."

Hezbollah's retaliatory firing of anti-aircraft rounds across the Blue Line "is a violation that poses a direct threat to human life," he adds.

On the positive side, he notes that the whole of southern Lebanon - including all villages in the formerly Israeli-occupied zone down to the Blue Line - successfully took part in municipal elections.

Hailing this development as "a clear assertion of the exercise of authority by the Government of Lebanon," he urges the country's authorities to "ensure the return of its effective authority throughout the south, including the deployment of Lebanese armed forces, and to do its utmost to ensure calm."

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