The UN Security Council decided unanimously Monday to keep its peacekeeping operation in southern Lebanon another year because of the unstable situation along the border with Israel.
The council voted 15-0 to keep the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) until August 31, 2011, saying that force and the Lebanese army have established a "new strategic environment" in southern Lebanon since 2006, following the brief Israeli-Hezbollah war in the region.
UNIFIL has been deployed for decades in southern Lebanon. But its mandate was strengthened with the addition of more troops after 2006 to monitor the ceasefire that ended the Israel-Hezbollah conflict. It currently has 11,492 military personnel on land 794 personnel serving in the maritime task force patrolling Lebanon's coastlines.
The council said in the resolution that "all parties" must implement the 2006 ceasefire, prevent violations and respect the blue line in its entirety, and to cooperate with UNIFIL.
Lebanon and Israel have accused each other of violating the blue line and the ceasefire.
The resolution "strongly deplores" the August 3 incident, stressing the importance for all the parties not to impair the ability of UNIFIL to operate in the region under its mandate.
It called for the establishment of a demilitarized zone between the blue line and the Litani River, except for the presence of the Lebanese army and UNIFIL.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the presence of UNIFIL remains critical following the incident on August 3, during which Lebanese and Israeli forces fiercely fired at each other over an artificial border known as the blue line.
The exchange of fire killed two Lebanese soldiers, one Israeli commander and one Lebanese journalist.
Ban said in a report to the council about the August 3 incident that the Lebanese and Israeli forces fired at each other for three hours with heavy machine guns and rockets.
Lebanese forces said they fired on the Israelis, claiming that the Israelis had crossed the blue line while cutting trees at that border.
"Although the investigation by UNIFIL is ongoing," Ban said. "UNIFIL established that the trees being cut by the Israel Defense Forces are located south of the blue line, and that the Lebanese Armed Forces fired the first shot, although UNIFIL has not determined who initiated direct fire."
Ban said "many achievements" have been accomplished to implement the agreement that ended the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict since 2006, but tensions between Israel and Lebanon as demonstrated on August 3 could quickly change the situation.
"I remain concerned with the fragile state of the cessation of hostilities, and call on all parties to ensure full respect of resolution 1701 (2006) and to redouble their efforts to secure a permanent ceasefire," Ban said.
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