U.N chief urges Hezbollah to pull out of Syria
Chief Ban Ki-moon urged Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions to end their involvement in Syria to stem the fallout from the conflict next door in a new report to the Security Council, an advance copy of which was obtained by The Daily Star.
The report detailed the effect of the ongoing crisis in Syria on Lebanon, including the rise of cross-border fighting, security incidents and the influx of refugees, 400,000 of whom have entered Lebanon in the five months since Ban’s last report in June.
It also provided details of an August incident during which Israeli troops crossed the border into Lebanon and engaged in a firefight with Hezbollah.
The document is the latest progress report on the implementation of Resolution 1701, which brought an end to the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel. It spans the period between June 29 and Nov 13.
Ban condemned Syria’s violation of Lebanese sovereignty through its shelling of border areas, saying it was part of the continuing “serious impact” of the crisis in Syria here.
The threat is manifested in cross-border violence and the deep political polarization in the country, in addition to various economic and social pressures that threaten Lebanon’s stability, Ban said.
There are over 800,000 refugees in Lebanon who fled the fighting in Syria, 80 percent of whom are women and children, according to the report.
Ban urged Hezbollah and other Lebanese factions to end their involvement in Syria.
“I reiterate my call for all Lebanese parties to step back from involvement in the Syrian conflict ... and urge them, once again, to recommit to the policy of disassociation,” he said.
The secretary-general’s report also discussed the details of an August incident in the border village of Labbouneh, when four Israeli soldiers were wounded in a clash with Hezbollah.
Ban said the Israeli operation was carried out as a result of fears that Hezbollah was rebuilding its military infrastructure and weapons supplies in the area. He said the Israeli army told UNIFIL that four of its soldiers were slightly wounded inside Lebanese territory while fighting a group of what they believed were Hezbollah fighters.
UNIFIL said the battle took place more than 600 meters north of the Blue Line marking the Lebanese-Israeli border. In addition to finding evidence of explosions and small arms fire, UNIFIL said it found what may be the remains of an IED.
Ban said the incident was a “serious breach” of Resolution 1701.
Back in August, the Lebanese Army said an Israeli foot patrol crossed 400 meters into Lebanese territory off Labbouneh and that during the infiltration an explosion occurred, leaving a number of Israeli troops wounded.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the soldiers were wounded during an “operational activity meant to preserve the calm for the northern communities in particular and for the residents of Israel in general.”
But Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah said his group was responsible for wounding the Israeli soldiers, and that the party had prior information that two Israeli units were planning to infiltrate Lebanon.
In a sign that neither Israel nor Hezbollah have an appetite for conflict, both sides cooperated closely with UNIFIL in the aftermath of the Israeli incursion and emphasized their commitment to the cease-fire.
Despite allegations by Israel that the Syrian regime is transferring weapons to Hezbollah, and claims that the party is smuggling weapons into populated areas in south Lebanon, the Ban said UNIFIL had no evidence that substantiated Israel’s claims.
“To date, UNIFIL has neither been provided with, nor found, evidence of the unauthorized transfer of arms into its area of operations,” he said.
While the U.N. takes the allegations of weapons transfers to Hezbollah from Syria seriously, it is not in a position to verify whether they are actually taking place, Ban said, but added that Hezbollah’s retaining its weapons was a threat to the authority and sovereignty of the Lebanese state.
He said the deteriorating security was a result of the “serious threat to stability posed by the proliferation of arms outside the control of the [state].”
Ban also sounded the alarm on the security situation in the Palestinian refugee camps, attributing recent tension there to overcrowding and competition for jobs as refugees arrive in droves from Syria.
The number of Palestinian refugees from Syria is expected to rise to 60,000 by the end of the year, up from an estimated 48,000 in September, according to the report.
Ban expressed concern at the lack of progress toward a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon, and urged Lebanon to do more to make sure there were no unauthorized weapons near the border.
He urged the country to continue fighting impunity by making progress on the investigation into the assassination of Wissam al-Hasan, the intelligence chief who was assassinated in October last year.