The head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon today met with senior Lebanese Government officials for discussion on a range of issues, with a particular focus on cooperation between UN peacekeepers and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF).
“We had very good meetings. I informed the [officials] that UNIFIL, in close coordination with LAF, has enhanced its operational activities to maintain security and stability in our area of operations following the recent redeployment of LAF units north of the Litani River,” the head and Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNFIL), Major-General Paolo Serra, said after the meetings, according to a news release.
The Force Commander had called on President Michel Sleiman, Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri and Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in the capital, Beirut. The meetings came in the wake of the one-year extension, at the end of August, of UNIFIL’s mandate by the Security Council.
“I have expressed my most sincere appreciation for the deep commitment of the LAF in maintaining a high level of coordination with UNIFIL despite the additional challenges the Lebanese Army has been faced with in recent months,” Major-General Serra added.
Established in 1978, UNIFIL is tasked with ensuring that the area between the so-called Blue Line – separating Israel and Lebanon – and the Litani River is free of unauthorized weapons, personnel and assets. It also cooperates with the Lebanese Armed Forces so they can fulfil their security responsibilities.
In light of the volatile regional environment, the Force Commander also expressed particular satisfaction at the prevailing calm and stability in UNIFIL’s area of operations in southern Lebanon.
The ongoing violence in neighbouring Syria has fuelled sectarian tensions across Lebanon and raised concerns that the country could plunge back into the internecine violence it endured during its 15 year civil war, which ended in 1990.
The last weeks of August witnessed fighting between supporters and opponents of the Syrian Government in Beirut, while tensions also increased in other parts of the country, such as the northern city of Tripoli. Moreover, a series of kidnappings also contributed to escalation in tensions.