MESS Report / UNIFIL Losing Power as Hezbollah Expands Deployment

Recent clashes between southern Lebanese villagers and UNIFIL peacekeepers have decreased the UN's ability to enforce Security Council Resolution 1701.

The head of the Hezbollah faction in the Lebanese parliament, Mohammed Raad, said yesterday that recent clashes between the inhabitants of southern Lebanese villages and U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon have led to a loss of the powers vested in the force by U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.

Raad said UNIFIL's movements south of the Litani River were restricted and had to be coordinated with the Lebanese army.

Inhabitants of a number of Shi'ite villages in the south harassed UNIFIL forces patrolling the region last week some 20 times, during which one UNIFIL soldier and one local resident were injured.

The most severe incident occured in the village of Kabarikha, where a number of villagers, apparently Hezbollah activists, lobbed stones at a patrol, grabbed weapons, climbed onto a moving vehicle and dismantled its antenna. The weapons were subsequently returned after the Lebanese army intervened.

UNIFIL's commander, Alberto Asarta Cuevas, said in a statement to the press that the Lebanese government must act to allow freedom of movement of its troops, as the Security Council resolution requires, and UNIFIL issued an open call to the Lebanese government to protect its soldiers.

Resolution 1701, passed after the Second Lebanon War in 2006, states that UNIFIL must prevent Hezbollah presence south of the Litani River and locate weapons that could be used against Israel. In fact, Hezbollah operates constantly in southern Lebanon. UNIFIL still still scans open areas, but its ability to enter villages has been in constant decline.

French UNIFIL soldier driving damaged armored vehicle in southern Lebanon

In 2007, six UN peacekeepers from the Spanish UNIFIL unit, considered particularly effective and unafraid of Hezbollah, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded ear the village of El-Khiam in the eastern sector. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but sources in Israel believe Hezbollah was sending a message to UNIFIL.

Senior Israel Defense Forces officers have said in recent years that Hezbollah has turned 160 Shi'ite villages and towns into military compounds and has deployed its array of rockets.

Hezbollah is widely believed both in Lebanon and in UN institutions to be responsible for the recent clashes. Restrictions on UNIFIL's movements is expected to make it easier for Hezbollah to tighten its grip south of the Litani River. Hezbollah has denied any connection to the incidents.

Tensions have also risen between UNIFIL and the Lebanese army, which is meant to assist the force in implementing Resolution 1701, for which Shi'ite officers are believed to be mainly responsible; Israel believes their moves are coordinated with Hezbollah.