Lebanon's security has stabilized but Israeli overflights continue, Annan reports

Lebanon's security has stabilized but Israeli overflights continue, Annan reports

Security in Lebanon has stabilized in recent months but Israeli overflights continue, Secretary-General Kofi Annan says in his latest update on the United Nations Interim Force in the country (UNIFIL), where arms caches have also been discovered in the peacekeeping mission’s area of operation.

In a letter to the President of the Security Council released today, the Secretary-General points to greater stability along the Blue Line of Israeli withdrawal. “The cessation of hostilities was maintained and there were no serious incidents or confrontations. Nevertheless, UNIFIL observed and reported air violations by Israeli jets and unmanned aerial vehicles on an almost daily basis.”

The report notes that Israel maintains that its repeated overflights are not violations but a necessary security measure. “While mindful of the Israeli motivations to continue their air incursions into Lebanese airspace, I would note that such violations of Lebanese sovereignty…undermine the credibility of both UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and compromise overall efforts to stabilize the situation in the south and efforts to build trust and confidence generally,” Mr. Annan says.

Israel continued to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon, with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) retaining a presence only in the northern part of the village of Ghajar, which is divided by the Blue Line. UNIFIL is working with the Lebanese and the Israelis to finalize the withdrawal of the IDF from the remaining area inside Lebanon and set up temporary security arrangements for the part of the village of Ghajar inside Lebanese territory.

As Israeli forces pull out, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have been moving in. “The deployment of the LAF throughout the south for the first time in decades down to the Blue Line is a most notable achievement and a key stabilizing factor,” Mr. Annan says, praising the Lebanese forces for their “high degree of cooperation” with the Force.

Since early September, there have been over a dozen instances where UNIFIL came across unauthorized arms or related materiel in its area of operation, including the discovery of 17 Katyushas and several improvised explosive devices. “On all of these occasions, UNIFIL informed the LAF, who took prompt action either to confiscate or destroy the materials,” the Secretary-General writes.

Although the UN continues to receive reports of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, these have not been verified, according to the report.

The report also details efforts to tackle the dangers of contamination from unexploded cluster munitions, which continue to kill and maim even after the guns have fallen silent. Israel has yet to provide UNIFIL with the detailed firing data on its use of cluster munitions, says Mr. Annan, voicing his expectation that such information will be furnished to help efforts to mitigate the threat to innocent civilians.

The letter will be discussed by the Security Council on Monday, a UN spokesman told reporters today.