UN Security Council Poised to Alter UNIFIL’s Role in Lebanon
The United Nations Security Council is expected to approve a call by Secretary General Kofi Annan to amend the mandate of UNIFIL from a peacekeeping mission to an observer role, despite strong opposition to the move by Lebanon, reported the Daily Star on Sunday.
Contacts established by Lebanese diplomats with UN officials since Thursday have left a strong impression that the Security Council would approve Annan’s memorandum, albeit with a quiet nod of understanding toward Lebanon’s position.
Salim Tadmouri, Lebanon’s ambassador to the UN, informed Annan and the head of the Security Council that Lebanon rejected the memorandum. But Tadmouri’s contacts with council members were not reassuring, government sources said.
As a result of the tense atmosphere, Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud visited Damascus on Saturday where he met his Syrian counterpart, Farouq Al Shara and President Bashar Al Assad, said reports.
Hammoud has urged the Syrian leaders to support the UN peacekeeping mission along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
"We want with our (Syrian) brothers to reaffirm our position as concerns maintaining the strength and mission of this force," Hammud said before a meeting Assad.
He added in a statement that his visit, which was unannounced, was aimed at "dialogue and cooperation in the face of the surge in Israeli aggression and its rejection of UN resolutions."
After the meeting, Syria's official SANA news agency said Assad and Hammoud discussed "the development of brotherly relations between Syria and Lebanon, and the tasks which are their responsibility in the present circumstances."
Hammoud also gave a letter from Lebanese President Emile Lahoud to Assad, who gave a written reply in return, the news agency said, without elaborating.
The minister was welcomed at the border by Shara, SANA said.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, the Lebanese government Saturday said it would be "unacceptable" to transform UNIFIL into an observer mission.
It demanded that it be consulted and give its "approval" to any modification in the force's mandate, since the force was deployed in its territory, said the Daily Star.
The Security Council Wednesday extended by six months the UN mission along Lebanon's "Blue Line," the highly-contested border with Israel, but will reduce the number of peacekeepers from 5,800 to 3,600 by the end of the year, despite objections from Beirut.
The force could then be lowered again to 2,000 peacekeepers next year.
The reductions are part of a UN plan to reorganize UNFIL after Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000, after 22 years of occupation.
United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan recommended in January that UNIFIL no longer act as peacekeepers, but monitor the border ceasefire.
Annan has also asked Beirut to deploy its own army troops to patrol the "Blue Line," in the face of heightened attacks by the Hizbollah movement, while also strongly criticizing Israeli-initiated violence in the occupied Shabaa Farms region – Albawaba.com
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