UN chief praises Lebanon's army
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon praised the Lebanese Armed Forces for its efforts in maintaining calm both within the country and along the Lebanon-Israeli border, in an advance copy of a report seen exclusively by The Daily Star.
In the report on the implementation of UN Resolution 1701, which is due to be discussed early this month, Ban also expressed his concern over the situation in the Palestinian Ain al-Hilweh camp, the presidential vacuum and the government’s decision to curb the number of Syrian refugees entering the country.
Praising the Lebanese Army, the UN chief thanked the military for its “robust and effective role in addressing security challenges.”
New security plans implemented in the Bekaa Valley and Tripoli have “led to the successful interdiction for people and material associated with terrorist activities and to curbing violence in Lebanon,” he said.
Hezbollah’s retention of arms outside the state apparatus, he added, posed a direct threat to the country’s stability.
Ban also roundly criticized the Israeli army’s “continued ... occupation of the northern part of the village of Ghajar” in the Golan Heights, classifying it as a “violation of ... Lebanese sovereignty.”
On 13 separate occasions since last February, he added, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon had witnessed members of the Israeli army “carrying out operational activities in the occupied area of northern Ghajar.”
Ban also criticized Israel’s “unabated” violations of Lebanese airspace, “mostly by unmanned aerial vehicles and fixed-wing aircraft.”
Over the past four months, the Israeli army has violated the Blue Line that demarcates the border between Israel and Lebanon three times, according to Ban.
The Lebanese Armed Forces “briefly crossed approximately 7 meters south of the Blue Line while taking pictures in the area of Naquora,” he added.
Echoing a chorus of growing concern, Ban underlined the untenable strain on resources and infrastructures in the 1,700 Lebanese communities that are officially hosting at least 1.1 million Syrian refugees. “The limited availability of resources is now an acute issue,” he said.
Despite the fact that Lebanon now has more refugees per capita than any country in the world, international donors have been slow in making good on their pledges of support. The U.N. estimates that Lebanon will need $1.7 billion to support Syrian refugees through 2014, but the international community has contributed less than 25% of that sum to date.
“I encourage the international community to fully consider the risks if Lebanon is not supported sufficiently to meet these immense challenges,” the UN chief said without elaborating.
Yet Ban also expressed misgivings about the Lebanese government’s recently announced policies to limit the number of Syrian refugees entering the country.
“Without prejudice to Lebanon’s right to manage its border, it remains essential that civilians fleeing the conflict in Syria who are in need of safety and protection are granted access and not returned in circumstances where their lives would be at risk.”
He said he would work to ensure that the Lebanese government upholds “international humanitarian law” throughout the refugee crisis.
Lebanon’s presidential vacuum raises questions about the country’s long-term stability and makes timely coordination problematic, he continued. “The international community needs an effective partner in Lebanon,” Ban said.
Ban expressed particular unease about a spate of violent incidents which have occurred in the southern Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian camp. “The security situation in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el Helweh [sic] is of concern,” he said, adding that the continued presence of military bases in the camps “compromises Lebanese sovereignty.”
By Elise Knutsen