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After tense talks, UN renews peacekeepers in Lebanon

US and Israel have criticised UN troops, saying UNIFIL should do more to stop Hezbollah gaining arms
French UNIFIL soldiers at ceremony at French embassy in Beirut in 2014 (AFP)

The United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to renew the mandate for a peacekeeping mission in Lebanon on Wednesday, following tense negotiations amid US and Israeli criticism that UN troops should do more to stop Hezbollah from receiving arms shipments.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) - established in 1978 - patrols Lebanon's southern border with Israel.

Washington regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.

The peacekeeping force’s mission was expanded by UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the Israeli war on Lebanon in 2006.

The UN-backed ceasefire agreement increased the number of UNIFIL troops from 2,000 to more than 10,000. The resolution also called for a buffer zone free of "any armed personnel" south of Lebanon's Litani River, about 20km from the Israeli border.

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Washington wanted the French-drafted resolution to renew UNIFIL's mandate to "ensure UNIFIL is doing its job to the fullest extent possible".

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Haley has repeatedly criticised UNIFIL over the past few weeks, calling the UN forces’ commander “blind” to Hezbollah’s activities.

The mission's mandate has not changed, but the resolution adopted on Wednesday spells out that the peacekeeping operation is authorised to "take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces ... to ensure that its area of operations is not utilised for hostile activities".

The resolution also asks UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres to look at ways the peacekeeping mission can increase its visible presence, including through patrols and inspections.

"At the direction of its patron, Iran, the terrorist organisation Hezbollah is stockpiling an offensive arsenal in southern Lebanon," Haley told the 15-member council after the vote. "It is preparing for war."

"They have thousands of missiles and thousands of trained fighters all beyond the control of the Lebanese government. It is apparent to everyone who cares to see it," she said.

Hezbollah defends its possession of weapons as necessary to defend Lebanon, but does not say where they are.

Deputy French UN Ambassador Anne Gueguen described the negotiations on the resolution as "difficult".

"UNIFIL, of course, can do better and can do more, but no one in this council can imagine for one second the environment existing there without UNIFIL," she told the council.

Despite mounting US and Israeli criticism, UNIFIL commander Michael Beary, who was assailed by Haley last week, has defended his troops, crediting them for maintaining the peace and thwarting misunderstandings over the past 11 years.

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