Exclusive: UN to renew mandate of peacekeeping force in Lebanon with little change

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The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) will have its mandate renewed for one year, but the maximum number of troops will be reduced, diplomatic sources confirmed Thursday.

The UN Security Council started voting on Thursday and an official announcement is expected Friday afternoon.

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“The draft seems to be okay for all the members of the Council,” one diplomatic source told Al Arabiya English, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the ongoing voting.

“The objective of this renewal is not to modify the mandate, which is a delicate balance between the parties, achieved to allow peace under UN control in 2006, but to make the force even more effective, to optimize it,” the source added.

Washington has long been a staunch advocate of altering UNIFIL’s mandate due to Hezbollah’s violations of UNSC resolutions.

While the US was pushing for a troop reduction and reducing the length of the mandate to six months, member states pushed back on the latter.

The US had threatened to veto the entire resolution, which would have seen the peacekeeping force dissolved.

There are currently around 10,000 peacekeeping troops and another 900 civilians that make up the force, which was originally formed to ensure the withdrawal of Israeli troops after they invaded Lebanon in 1978.

After the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the mandate saw an increase to the number of troops to a maximum of 15,000.

The increase in troop numbers was meant so that UNIFIL could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country’s south for the first time in decades.

This year’s mandate will see the maximum number decreased to 13,000, a diplomat at the UN said.

However, the lowered troop ceiling "will have little impact, as there are only 10,500 troops deployed, so there is still an important margin," according to the diplomatic source.

Israel has repeatedly accused Iranian-backed Hezbollah of impeding the peacekeepers from carrying out their mandate.

Another change to this year's mandate will be new wording on providing UNIFIL access to suspicious areas. In previous years, local residents and companies prevented UNIFIL from entering private property for inspections.

Indonesia, Italy and France are the biggest troop-contributing countries, respectively. France had been at the forefront of pushing for the mandate to be renewed as-is.

The new mandate will also call for developing a plan in consultation with the parties to implement the recommendations of the UNSG’s UNIFIL assessment report, with timelines. These include strengthening the force’s agility, repositioning certain elements to adapt them to the current context, and strengthening effective mechanisms for de-escalation, while maintaining troop and contingent density and mobility.

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