Despite rhetoric, Israel and Lebanon aspire to peace, says UN official

12 March 2010

In spite of the inflammatory rhetoric heightening tensions between Israel and Lebanon, a senior United Nations official today said that both sides do hope for an end to hostilities.

Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told reporters in New York that he briefed the Security Council on the recent surge in rhetoric and public threats “which have generated concerns over a new confrontation” and are “utterly unhelpful.”

This “brinkmanship,” he said, flouts the spirit of resolution 1701 of 2006, which called for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah, respect for the so-called Blue Line separating the Israeli and Lebanese sides, disarming of militias and an end to arms smuggling.

But in contrast to these public pronouncements, “both sides continue to express commitment to the cessation of hostilities and the implementation” of the resolution, Mr. Williams said.

“I believe it is these private statements, rather than the public rhetoric, that convey true intentions.”

One of the key achievements of the resolution, the official said, is that since its adoption, the situation between the two sides across the Blue Line has been at its most calm in decades.

However, key parts of the resolution – ending Israel’s daily overflights of Lebanese territory and potential violations of the arms embargo across Lebanon’s borders – have yet to be implemented, rendering the situation in the region fragile, he stressed.

Mr. Williams, who briefed the Council today on the latest Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of resolution 1701, welcomed Lebanon’s moves to improve the management of its borders, which he hopes will also receive a boost from the country’s improved relations with Syria.

In that report, Mr. Ban writes that the foundation for a permanent ceasefire has been laid by the new strategic environment and the relative stability in southern Lebanon, which the UN peacekeeping operation in the country (UNIFIL) and the Lebanese Armed Forces helped establish.

But the opportunity created by UNIFIL’s presence cannot be maintained indefinitely, it warns. “It is the responsibility of the parties to focus on all outstanding issues in order to reach a permanent ceasefire and long-term solution as envisaged” in the resolution.

In a related development, the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the UN-backed body set up to try the perpetrators of political killings, announced that it has appointed a new Chief of Investigations.

Michael Taylor, a British national, has extensive experience in criminal investigations, including with the London Metropolitan Police Service, where he served mostly with the Criminal Investigation Department and Specialist Operations.

The Tribunal, which began its operations last March, was set up following a probe by an independent international commission after an earlier UN mission found that Lebanon’s own inquiry into the massive car bombing that killed Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in 2005 was seriously flawed.

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Rise in strident rhetoric in Israel and Lebanon concerns Secretary-General

More than three years after the Security Council adopted a resolution calling for a complete halt to fighting between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah, the situation in the region remains fragile, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in a new report, which also raises concerns over increasingly bellicose rhetoric warning of renewed fighting.