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UN commander meets with Lebanese, Israeli officers after last week’s exchange of fire

UN commander meets with Lebanese, Israeli officers after last week’s exchange of fire

Force Commander, Claudio Graziano
The new commander of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon held his first meeting today with senior Lebanese and Israeli military officers focussing on steps to prevent a recurrence of last week’s exchange of fire between Lebanese and Israeli forces across the Blue Line separating the two countries.

“I consider these meetings extremely important and the right mechanism to address the concerns of the parties and to avoid misunderstandings,” UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander Major General Claudio Graziano said after the session at UN headquarters at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.

On Thursday Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s spokesperson Michele Montas said the exchange of fire, initiated by Lebanon after an Israeli army bulldozer crossed the technical fence in an apparent attempt to clear mines from the area between the technical fence and the Blue Line, constituted a breach of the cessation of hostilities as laid out in Security Council resolution 1701.

At today’s meeting UNIFIL submitted the report and findings on the incident near Marun al-Ras, and both parties agreed with recommendations to improve the mission’s liaison and coordination with each side to prevent and mitigate such situations.

Under resolution 1701 UNIFIL, first created in 1978 to confirm an Israeli withdrawal after an earlier incursion, was greatly enhanced to monitor the ceasefire after Israel’s 34-day war against Hizbollah last summer, support the Lebanese army as it deployed throughout south Lebanon, and extend assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

Today’s meeting also discussed the ongoing issue of the northern part of Ghajar, with a view to speeding Israel’s withdrawal from the area, the last position it still occupies in southern Lebanon. The village straddles the line separating the two sides.

Maj.-Gen. Graziano of Italy took over command of UNIFIL from Maj.-Gen. Alain Pellegrini of France at the beginning of the month. The mission now has more than 12,000 troops on the ground or patrolling Lebanon’s coast out of a maximum of 15,000 permitted by resolution 1701.

In a related move Mr. Ban has informed the Security Council by letter of his intention to appoint Geir Pedersen of Norway as his Special Coordinator for Lebanon. Mr. Pedersen, currently the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Lebanon, would be responsible in his new post for coordinating UN work in the country and representing the Secretary-General on all political aspects of UN work there. The Secretariat is awaiting the Council’s response.