BEIRUT: United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres struck a warning tone in his report on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, as the body met for a closed session Tuesday night to discuss developments. The reports are published every three months by the secretary-general to update the Security Council on the implementation of the resolution that brought the 34-day, 2006 war to an end.Guterres said, “Non-compliance increases the risk of tensions and possible escalation into hostilities. ... The continued commitment of Lebanon and Israel to Resolution 1701 is of paramount importance.”
The secretary-general noted a number of occasions over the past three months that had increased tensions, including an incident on Christmas Day when UNIFIL had to interpose between armed personnel of the Lebanese and Israeli armies, who pointed weapons at each other during a standoff on the border at Aita Shaab.
Away from the border, Guterres also condemned the use of “bellicose rhetoric” between the states regarding their exclusive economic zones, particularly with regard to possible drilling in an offshore block demarcated for energy exploration that partially lies in waters disputed by Israel.
“I encourage both parties to adopt an approach that minimizes security risks and takes advantage of the confidence-building potential of mutually beneficial exploitation of maritime oil and gas resources,” he said.
Between Nov. 1 and Feb. 19, UNIFIL recorded continued “almost daily” violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel. In total, there were 458 such violations, with a combined sum of 1,684 overflight hours.
“I reiterate my condemnation of all violations of Lebanese sovereignty and reiterate my call for Israel to cease its violations of Lebanese airspace and to withdraw its forces from northern Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line,” Guterres said.
The majority of the 204 ground violations of the Blue Line were “committed either by shepherds with their flocks ... or farmers cultivating their fields.” It also noted the numerous maritime violations by Israeli ships.
The report noted continued cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army, with 17 percent of the former’s patrols being conducted alongside units from the Lebanese Army. The Army expanded its presence along the Blue Line by participating with UNIFIL in more than 1,205 foot and vehicular patrols.
The Army does not yet have the capacity to take over UNIFIL’s maritime role. UNIFIL is reportedly supporting the Army request for further international donor support for another offshore patrol vessel to boost capability.
According to the report, UNIFIL suffered a theft on Dec. 29, when 2,240 rounds of small arms ammunition were stolen from an armored personnel carrier stationed near the town of Haris near Bint Jbeil.
Guterres criticized the lack of progress in disarming armed groups, noting that Hezbollah, in particular, continues to publicly acknowledge its military capacity.
“The presence of unauthorized weapons in the hands of Hizbullah remains of serious concern and warrants condemnation,” Guterres said, using an alternative spelling for Hezbollah. “The presence of those weapons, together with threatening rhetoric from both sides, heightens risks of miscalculation and escalation into conflict.”
Hezbollah’s role in Syria was also singled out for criticism. Guterres reiterated his “call upon all Lebanese parties and nationals to cease their involvement in the Syrian conflict.”
The report said that UNIFIL had so far been unable to confirm a reported visit on Dec. 26 by Hajj Hamza, the operations commander of a staunchly pro-regime Syrian Shiite militia based in Aleppo.
Regarding the NGO “Green Without Borders,” which Israel has claimed is being used by Hezbollah to establish observation posts, the report stated that during almost daily inspections, “UNIFIL observed no violations or hostile activities in connection with activities or installations of this organization during the reporting period.”
The report confirmed the extension of the mandate of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon from March 1 for a period of three years.