The United Nations has brought representatives of Israel and Lebanon together, a day after a deadly skirmish along the so-called Blue Line separating the two countries, to prevent similar violence erupting in the future.
Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), convened an extraordinary tripartite meeting this evening with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).
The talks at the UN position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing in southern Lebanon followed yesterday’s exchange of fire between the two forces across the Blue Line at El Adeisse, which reportedly claimed at least four lives.
Major-General Asarta said that at the talks, he “reiterated the sensitivity of the Blue Line and urged utmost caution in any actions along the Blue Line that could be perceived as provocative and exacerbate tensions.”
UNIFIL informed the parties about the preliminary findings of its investigation into yesterday’s events.
The Force Commander said that he also called on Israel and Lebanon to work with UNIFIL, particularly on matters relating to the Blue Line, to minimize the possibility of future misunderstandings that could escalate further.
During the meeting, both parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and to resolution 1701, which ended the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah and calls for respecting the Blue Line, as well as to work with UNIFIL to ensure that incidents of violence are avoided in the future.
The incident was triggered by Israel’s announcement of its intention to cut down a tree in the proximity of the Blue Line. UNIFIL said in a statement issued earlier today that the tree is located south of the line on the Israeli side.
“The exchange of fire started although we did our best to prevent it,” Alain Le Roy, the top UN peacekeeping official, told reporters in New York, stressing that UNIFIL helped to mitigate the violence, which lasted some 30 minutes, negotiating a ceasefire to end the fighting.
Yesterday’s incident, he said, was the “most serious” incident since 2006, when resolution 1701, which ended the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese group Hizbollah and calls for respecting the Blue Line, was adopted.
Mr. Le Roy, who serves as Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, called the existence of the tripartite mechanism bringing together UNIFIL, Israel and Lebanon an “important achievement.”
He said that he is very glad that the two sides accepted the UN’s proposal for an urgent tripartite meeting.
Both Lebanon and Israel had some reservations regarding the Blue Line in this area when it was demarcated in 2000 as the line of withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, UNIFIL noted in a press statement.
“However, both Lebanon and Israel confirmed to the UN Secretary-General that, notwithstanding their reservations, identifying the line was solely the responsibility of the United Nations and that they will respect the line as identified,” it added. “The UN position is that the Blue Line must be respected in its entirety by all parties.”
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement yesterday, urging “the parties to exercise maximum restraint and to work with UNIFIL and the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon in taking steps to consolidate the calm now restored in the area.”
Security Council members also voiced concern yesterday and called for maximum restraint and for greater cooperation with UNIFIL.