As the UN Middle East envoy begins a 13-day mission to the region Thursday, diplomatic sources said he would seek guarantees for the safety of UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon. Lebanese government, in the meanwhile, showed readiness for hosting the troops to fill the vacuum after Israeli withdrawal from the occupied zone.
AFP quoted the diplomatic sources, who asked not to be named, as saying UN co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process Terje Roed-Larsen will attempt to extract the strongest possible guarantees for the security of members of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The force has been deployed in southern Lebanon since the Israeli occupation began in 1978.
Security arrangements for southern Lebanon have been the subject of heated international discussion since Israel on April 17 officially notified the United Nations that it intends to withdraw its troops from the region by July 7.
It plans to withdraw with or without the agreement of Lebanon and Syria.
The United Nations currently has 4,500 UNIFIL peacekeepers in southern Lebanon. Under the terms of UN Security Council resolutions 425 and 426 of 1978, the peacekeepers are to confirm the Israeli withdrawal, restore peace and international security and assist the Lebanese government reestablish effective authority in the area from which Israeli forces have withdrawn.
UNIFIL has been unable to implement the resolutions as Israeli forces have so far not withdrawn.
The Security Council is expected shortly to draft recommendations on the future of UNIFIL or any replacement force, in the light of the planned Israeli withdrawal.
UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe confirmed Wednesday that on his 13-day visit from Thursday, Roed-Larsen will visit Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, returning to New York on May 10.
He will be accompanied by a team of political, military and legal advisors, the spokeswoman said.
LEBANON PM SIGNALS READINESS FOR UN PEACEKEEPERS
In Lebanon, Prime Minister Salim Hoss Wednesday denied that Israel's unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon would create a security "vacuum." Hoss' statement was the first from Beirut to signal Lebanese assent to UN peacekeeper forces being deployed in areas vacated by the Israeli troops.
"We have to remind ourselves that the Israeli withdrawal will not lead to a vacuum threatening security and stability, as some pessimists like to predict," said Hoss, adding: "We should not forget that the situation in the areas to be vacated by Israel will be protected by the international force" called for by UN resolutions 425 and 426.
Hoss referred to UN Security Council resolutions that were approved after the Israeli invasion in 1978, and which call for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon while referring to peace-keeping mechanisms.
Hoss added that "legitimate authorities" will "expand their sovereignty on land, water and air in liberated regions" following the Israeli pull-out.
Hoss said that the end of Israel's conquest in the security strip represents an "important turning point for Lebanon." He claimed that the occupying troops’ redeployment constitutes the first time Israel has withdrawn from Arab land as a result of force. He called the prospect of an Israeli withdrawal abiding by Resolution 425 "historic and pleasing;" and he expressed hopes that Israel's action will result in "stability returning to Lebanon." – (Several Sources)
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