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UN Force Seeks to Reduce Tension Over Line of Separation

The head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon today discussed “critical issues” with Lebanese and Israeli commanders to prevent a recurrence of the exchange of gunfire earlier this month between the two armies across the line separating the countries.

The exchange “once again underscored the extreme sensitivity of the Blue Line and the important role our liaison and coordination arrangement with the parties plays in preventing escalation,” UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas said after the meeting.

“The tripartite mechanism is at the core of this arrangement, as evident yet again in today’s deliberations when we were able to address a range of critical issues with the parties,” he added, calling on both parties to act with maximum restraint and avoid any kind of unilateral action, including action that might be perceived as provocative by the other side.

He also urged both sides to fully use UNIFIL’s coordination mechanism and address all issues of tension through the peacekeeping force, which has more than 12,000 uniformed personnel on the ground in southern Lebanon.

“Both the parties reaffirmed their continued commitment to the implementation of resolution 1701 and their willingness to work with UNIFIL to maintain the cessation of hostilities,” he said, referring to the Security Council resolution that ended the month-long fighting between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah in 2006.

Earlier this month, UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams warned that incidents such as the exchange of gunfire could easily flare up into something more dangerous.

Maj.-Gen. Asarta Cuevas discussed the implementation of resolution 1701 with the two sides, including the situation along the Blue Line, violations and incidents, visible marking of the Line and the issue of withdrawal of Israeli forces from northern Ghajar, north of the Line.

The UN has repeatedly condemned violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli over-flights as a violation of the resolution, which also calls for disarming all militias and armed groups outside the national army, including Hizbollah. In his regular reports to the Council, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called Hizbollah’s refusal to disarm a serious challenge to the State’s ability to exercise full sovereignty and control over its territory

Israel has cited the alleged lack of enforcement of the arms embargo against Hizbollah to justify its over-flights. Mr. Ban has reported that while UNIFIL has not found evidence of the unauthorized transfer of arms into its area of operations, it is not in a position to verify Israeli claims of significant breaches of the embargo across the border between Lebanon and Syria

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