Babylon & Beyond

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LEBANON: Trouble stirs along Israel border

April 29, 2008 |  9:46 am

Unifil04_2Not all quiet lately on Lebanon's southern front with Israel.

Peacekeepers in southern Lebanon have come under political fire by Israeli authorities for reportedly covering up for Hezbollah's re-arming activities.

This comes at at particularly tense time. All sorts of people are warning of yet another round of war erupting between the Jewish state and the Lebanese Shiite militant group.

The Israeli daily Haaretz today quoted government and military officials accusing the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) of concealing information about Hezbollah.

Why would they do that? To avoid any friction with the Iranian-backed group, the paper reports:

In the last six months there have been at least four cases in which UNIFIL soldiers identified armed Hezbollah operatives, but did nothing and did not submit full reports on the incidents to the U.N. Security Council.… A senior government source in Jerusalem said that "There is an attempt by various factors in the U.N. to mislead the Security Council and whitewash everything having to do with the strengthening of Hezbollah in southern Lebanon."

The U.N. rejected the accusations in a statement released today:

The allegations made in the daily [Haaretz] … are without any basis.… In the event of any incident ... UNIFIL follows standard procedures that include immediate action necessary to address the situation on the group. UNIFIL also immediately informs the Security Council about all developments on the ground.

Created in 1978 to keep the peace in Lebanon, UNFIL was considerably reinforced in the aftermath of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah. Its goal is to maintain a fragile peace between the two parties.

Since then, things have been pretty quiet within the rolling hills and dramatic mountain slopes of southern Lebanon.

Occasionally, the international smorgasbord of troops from India to France to Tanzania, fend off accusations from one or the other side. In addition to Israeli accusations of letting Hezbollah re-arm, last week the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese newspaper Assafir accused them of working to ensure Israel's safety.

UNIFIL promptly rejected the charge.

The criticism followed UNIFIL's complaints that unidentified gunmen had intercepted one of its patrols as it pursued a suspicious tractor-trailer in late March.

Raed Rafei in Beirut

Photo: A French UNIFIL peacekeeper in Marrakeh, Lebanon. Credit: U.N. Photo/Maher Attar