Lebanon: UN reports progress on securing Israeli withdrawal from final position

17 October 2006

The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon today reported further progress towards securing Israel’s withdrawal from the last position it still occupies in the south of the country after this summer’s war with Hizbollah.

UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Acting Commander Brig.-General J.P. Nehra discussed with senior Lebanese and Israeli officers future security arrangements for Gadjar, the village straddling the line separating the two sides, the only post Israel still holds following its withdrawal from all other positions on 1 October.

“The meeting went very well, I think we have more or less closed all the gaps except for a few minor technical issues that should be finalized very soon and then I expect the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) to complete their withdrawal from South Lebanon,” Brig.-General Nehra said.

A complete Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, together with Lebanese army deployment in the area, is a key clause in UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 34 days of fighting in August.

The resolution also mandates strengthening UNIFIL to a maximum of 15,000 troops. At present it has some 5,000 troops on the ground. The force’s naval unit became operational on Sunday, monitoring Lebanon’s territorial waters and the coastline to prevent arms smuggling.

In a related development, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) reported today that about half a million Lebanese children returned to public schools yesterday, after a delay of over a month caused by the fighting which completely destroyed 50 schools and heavily damaged 300 others.

The back-to-school campaign went well but teachers reported that many children still bore psychological scars and wanted to talk about their experiences, UNICEF spokesman Michael Bociurkiw told a news briefing in Geneva.

Unexploded ordnance remains the single greatest physical threat to children’s well-being in the area, he said. Although schools had been cleared by de-mining authorities, UNICEF is very concerned that children who might take short-cuts through fields to school might be vulnerable to ordnance that has not yet been found, he added.

 

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