Despite recent “worrying incidents” in southern Lebanon, where Israel and Hizbollah militants battled fiercely three years ago, talk of a new war is alarmist, but all sides must do more to translate the cessation of hostilities into a permanent ceasefire, a senior United Nations official warned today.
“The Secretary-General condemns all violation of resolution 1701, whether in the form of rocket launches, air land or sea violations, the active maintenance of an arms depot or the use of surveillance equipment on sovereign Lebanese territory,” Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told reporters after briefing the Security Council on the latest developments.
Resolution 1701, adopted by the Council in August 2006, called for an end to hostilities between Israel and Hizbollah, respect for the so-called Blue Line separating the Israeli and Lebanese sides, disarming of militias and an end to arms smuggling. Hizbollah, which has not disarmed, is part of a new unity government formed in Lebanon yesterday.
The rocket launches into Israel, the almost daily Israeli flights over Lebanon, the arms depot maintained by Hizbollah and the apparently Israeli surveillance equipment left on Lebanese territory raise the spectre of a potential escalation. But the cessation of hostilities that followed the adoption of 1701 “has actually held remarkably well,” Mr. Williams said, calling this a tribute to the UN peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL, the Lebanese and the Israelis.
“To the best of my knowledge… probably no other country in the world – probably, I may be wrong – is subject to such an intrusive regime of aerial surveillance [as Lebanon],” he noted. “Now we also have other events, the discovery of listening devices which almost certainly seem to have been left by the Israelis. Are these violations? Yes, of course they’re violations of 1701.”
He called for more to be done to safeguard what has been achieved in the past three years. “While welcoming the parties’ stated commitment to resolution 1701, which is critical, we also stress the need for more tangible steps to facilitate forward movement in the direction of a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution,” he said.
“Lebanon, Israel and the international community must be vigilant and undertake greater efforts in the coming period to allow us to move forward.”
Asked whether he would categorically say that there was no arms smuggling into Lebanon, he replied: “No I would not say that… it’s an established fact that Lebanon does not have an active border control regime in the way that most countries have on their borders.”
He cited UN missions in 2007 and 2008 that called the borders “very, very porous. Now that’s an objective and scientific assessment of what pertains on the borders. What they were not in a position to say is what may or may not come across the borders,” he added.
As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon did yesterday, Mr. Williams congratulated the new national unity government, noting the challenges facing it in the economic, political and social fields as well as in exercising its authority throughout the whole country.