UN unanimously votes to renew mandate of peacekeeping force in Lebanon

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The United Nations Security Council Friday unanimously adopted a resolution to renew the mandate of the peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) for another year.

Little noticeable change was made in this year’s resolution. However, the maximum number of troops was reduced, and intricate language was introduced, calling for more UNIFIL access to suspicious areas with weapons belonging to the Iran-backed Hezbollah.

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The United States and Israel have criticized UNIFIL in previous years, saying the force was not doing enough to crack down on Hezbollah’s weapons.

With Europe and much of the international community refusing to support Washington’s demand to renew the Iran arms embargo at the UN, there were fears that the US would veto UNIFIL’s mandate renewal, according to multiple diplomats involved in the discussions.

The peacekeeping force - originally formed to ensure the withdrawal of Israeli troops after they invaded Lebanon in 1978 - is present in south Lebanon along Beirut’s border with Israel.

If language was not introduced to expand UNIFIL troops’ access to specific areas in south Lebanon or the troop reduction was not agreed, the US was prepared to veto the resolution entirely, diplomats told Al Arabiya English.

The previous mandate saw 15,000 troops as the maximum number in the force. This year’s mandate dropped that number to 13,000. There are currently around 10,000 peacekeeping troops and another 900 civilians, which was

While the US was hoping for a six-month renewal of the mandate, the rest of the member states called for one year.

“While this is tangible progress, the United States believes there is much more to do. Be assured that in the coming weeks and months, the Trump Administration will be closely scrutinizing this mission to ensure these improvements are effectively implemented,” US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft said after the vote.

Craft added that the Trump Administration was “deeply concerned these last years about UNIFIL’s overall inability to contain the Hezbollah menace. We are not going to allow this to stand. The Council must join us in confronting this.”

However, the resolution gives UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 60 days to develop a “detailed plan” for improving the mission and presenting it to the Security Council.

Other recommendations in the mandate 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.

“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,” a diplomatic source told Al Arabiya English on Thursday after voting began.

An important part of UNIFIL’s work also brings together officials from Lebanon and Israel’s armies once a month for tripartite talks in south Lebanon. It is the only form of official communication between Lebanon and Israel, which are still technically in a state of war with each other.

Lebanon's Ambassador Amal Mudallali speaks in the Security Council, at the UN headquarters, April 29, 2019. (AP)
Lebanon's Ambassador Amal Mudallali speaks in the Security Council, at the UN headquarters, April 29, 2019. (AP)

Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, Amal Mudallali, welcomed the vote as essential for stability and peace in south Lebanon. “With what Lebanon is going through now, the last thing you need is to remove or jeopardize the pillars of stability. UNIFIL is an important pillar,” Mudallali told Al Arabiya English.

She thanked the 15-member UNSC, specifically France, the penholder for Lebanon in the Council, Indonesia as the month’s SC president, and the US.

“Without US support, this resolution would not have been adopted,” Mudallali added. “They were very tough negotiations, but in the end, the requirements of peace and security prevailed.”

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