The United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon has come under increasing threat in the south.
Officials said patrols by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon have been banned from several Shi’ite villages in the south. They said Shi’ites have been attacking UNIFIL patrols in what appeared to be organized by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah.
“Some of these may have been something spontaneous in the street, but some were clearly organized,” UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, said.
On July 3, a UNIFIL patrol was attacked and overpowered by Shi’ites in the southern village of Kabrikha. Officials said the villagers, after one of them had been arrested, pelted UN troops and seized their weapons.
This marked at least the second attack on a UNIFIL patrol in less than a week. In both cases, the Lebanese Army, which eventually recovered the UNIFIL weapons, refused to intervene.
“It is incumbent on the Lebanese authorities to ensure the security and freedom of movement for UNIFIL within its area of operation,” UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas said.
Since 2007, UNIFIL has deployed 13,500 troops in southern Lebanon in an effort to maintain the ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah. Under the ceasefire, Hezbollah was prevented from restoring its presence south of the Litani River.
Over the last two months, tension has escalated between Lebanon and UNIFIL. On July 2, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon cited a series of confrontations between peacekeepers and Lebanese Shi’ites, which he attributed to the reported arrival of Scud-class missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
On June 29, Shi’ites attacked a UNIFIL vehicle between the villages of Adeisseh and Kfar Kila. The Shi’ites blocked a road and hurled stones toward a UN patrol during what officials termed a “maximum deployment exercise.” The exercise, meant to ensure troop readiness, was said to have ended on the following day.
“In cooperation with the Lebanese Army, UNIFIL is making every effort to talk to the communities and explain to them the nature and purpose of the activity in order to clear any misunderstandings they may have in this regard,” Cuevas said.
Hezbollah has denied involvement in the attacks on UNIFIL. The Shi’ite militia, which dominates the government of Prime Minister Said Hariri, said the confrontations stemmed from UNIFIL’s failure to coordinate with the Lebanese Army.
“The situation can be calmed by a change in the conduct of the international forces,” Hizbullah deputy secretary-general Naim Kassem said.