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UN votes on extending mandate for peacekeepers in southern Lebanon

Resolution calls on 'prompt and full access' to suspicious sites, including cross-border tunnels
A UN peacekeeping force patrol near the southern Lebanese border with Israel on 26 August.
A UN peacekeeping force patrol near the southern Lebanese border with Israel on 26 August (AFP/File photo)

The UN Security Council is voting on a resolution on Friday that would extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon for a year but reduce its troop ceiling by 2,000 in response to US pressure.

The French-drafted resolution also calls on the Lebanese government to facilitate "prompt and full access" to sites requested by UN peacekeepers for investigation, including tunnels crossing the UN-drawn Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, which the latter accuses Hezbollah of building.

The draft urges freedom of movement for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) and unimpeded access to all parts of the Blue Line, and condemns "in the strongest terms" all attempts to restrict UN troop movements and attacks on mission personnel.

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If approved it would give the United States a symbolic victory, but it would also almost certainly be welcomed by many countries that view Unifil as critical to maintaining peace in the region.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres wrote to the council on 29 July recommending a 12-month renewal of Unifil's mandate, stressing the importance of maintaining high troop strength.

While the resolution calls for reducing the maximum number of troops from 15,000 to 13,000, it would not require any cuts because its current strength is about 10,250 troops.

The 15 members of the council are voting on the resolution by email due to the coronavirus pandemic. The Security Council president, Indonesia's UN Ambassador Dian Triansyah Djani, said results will be announced Friday evening.

The voting began on Thursday, a day after Israel's envoy to the UN, Gilad Erdan, said a shooting attack carried out earlier in the week by Hezbollah towards Israeli soldiers took place between two UN posts.

Unifil said it was launching an investigation into the incident.

'Degraded security situation'

Unifil was originally created to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli troops after a 1978 invasion.

The mission was expanded after a 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah so that peacekeepers could deploy along the Lebanon-Israel border to help Lebanese troops extend their authority into their country's south.

The resolution being voted on recognises "that UNIFIL has successfully implemented its mandate since 2006 and has allowed for maintaining peace and security since then", and therefore the Security Council would authorise the reduction of the troop ceiling from 15,000 to 13,000.

The draft resolution states that the force strength can be increased in the future in the event of "a degraded security situation".

Of the current 10,250 troops that are part of Unifil, more than 9,400 are ground troops and over 850 are naval personnel assigned to its Maritime task force.

The draft resolution would affirm the Security Council's "strong continuing commitment to the existing UNIFIL mandate".

And it would reaffirm the necessity that Lebanon's armed forces deploy in southern Lebanon and its territorial water "at an accelerated pace" to implement a key mandate provision.

The draft asks Guterres to present the first elements of a plan to improve Unifil's "efficiency and effectiveness" within 60 days.