President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Wednesday underlined Lebanon's keenness on the role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), during a meeting with the ambassadors of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member states.
Emphasizing that Lebanon is “keen on UNIFIL and on the positive role it is playing,” Aoun said Cabinet has decided to ask the Security Council to extend the U.N. force's mandate for another year without altering its missions and rules of engagement to “enable it to continue performing its vital role, which is a regional or rather international need.”
“Our adherence to it is surpassed by nothing other than our clinging to public freedoms and to Lebanon's full sovereignty,” the president added.
He also underscored “the importance of continuing and strengthening partnership between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army,” noting that the army is “offering all the necessary facilitations to UNIFIL as it requests for the proper conduct of its missions.”
PM Diab for his part pointed out that UNIFIL's presence in south Lebanon is “an international need before being a Lebanese demand.”
“The presence of these forces, under the mandate and role entrusted to them, is a necessity to prevent tensions and foil any danger on the border resulting from the escalating Israeli violations of Resolution 1701,” Diab added.
The meeting was attended by U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis and the ambassadors of the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China.
It tackled the issue of extending the mandate of UNIFIL in a Security Council session that will be held soon.
The Lebanese government had agreed on Friday to extend the mandate of UNIFIL for another year.
The extension of the peacekeeping force comes as Israel is calling for major changes in the way the mission operates on the ground in southern Lebanon. Israel is demanding that it have access to all sites and freedom of movement and that it report back to the U.N. Security Council if it is being blocked.
The decision to extend the term of UNIFIL also comes amid rising tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border in recent weeks.
Israeli troops opened fire last week toward a shepherd on the edge of the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms.Earlier this month, Israeli troops shot and wounded a shepherd in a nearby area, saying he crossed the border.
On Tuesday, tensions surged in the southern border area of Adaisseh after an Israeli force advanced into an area claimed by Lebanon, prompting Lebanese troops to take combat positions.
PM Diab has recently visited UNIFIL's headquarters where he described the presence of the force in the volatile area as a necessity.
The government's decision comes amid the backdrop of a war of words between Israeli and Lebanese officials, including Lebanon's Hizbullah, over the mandate of UNIFIL. The force has been deployed in southern Lebanon since an Israeli invasion in 1978.
The quibble over the UNIFIL mandate comes up every year before the mandate is typically renewed in the summer.
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