What does UNIFIL have to say today? The Blue Line is "sensitive", but "quiet prevails at this time"

This is what the UN likes best – holding meetings… [This one was, unsurprisingly, “constructive”]. That, and calling on both sides to exercise “maximum restraint” [safely, after the most senior officials in the U.S. administration already used the exact same language]…

Here is a statement issued today by the UNIFIL spokesperson in Naqoura, Lebanon:
“UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas chaired an extraordinary tripartite meeting with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) tonight at the UN Position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing in south Lebanon. The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Mr. Michael Williams also attended and addressed the meeting. The meeting specifically addressed the serious situation that developed in the last two days following the exchange of fire between Lebanese and Israeli forces across the Blue Line in El Adeisse yesterday, causing regrettable loss of lives. UNIFIL informed the parties that a thorough investigation into yesterday’s events is underway and presented its preliminary findings. On completion of the ongoing investigation, UNIFIL will share its findings with both the parties. In the meantime, UNIFIL urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid any action that could serve to heighten tensions, and work with UNIFIL in taking steps to prevent any recurrence of such a situation. Following the tripartite meeting, UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Asarta said: ‘We had a constructive meeting. I stressed the importance of ensuring full respect for the Blue Line by all the parties. I reiterated the sensitivity of the Blue Line and urged utmost caution in any actions along the Blue Line that could be perceived as provocative and exacerbate tensions. I called on the parties to utilize the liaison and coordination mechanism through UNIFIL particularly on matters relating to the Blue Line in order to minimize the scope for any misunderstandings or apprehensions that may lead to wanton escalation’. The Force Commander noted that both the parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and to UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and undertook to work with UNIFIL to ensure that incidents of violence are avoided in the future.  He added that the situation has returned to normal and quiet prevails in UNIFIL’s area of operations at this time”.

UPDATE: The IDF later issued a rather uninformative statement, revealing only that it “was represented by Brig. Gen. Yossi Hyman, Head of Strategy in the IDF Planning Department, who was brought together with an LAF representative and UNIFIL Commander Gen. Alberto Asarta Cuevas. During the meeting, Gen. Cuevas urged both parties to exercise restraint in order to ‘refrain from any action that could lead to an escalation’.   Gen. Cuevas asked the LAF and the IDF to cooperate with UNIFIL, in order to prevent any future misunderstandings which could result in even worse consequences.  ‘UNIFIL is in contact with both sides, in order to ensure that the situation in the area is under control and that there is no violation of the Blue Line, it was reported”. This IDF statement is posted here.

Then, repeating its maddeningly careless (though perhaps deliberate) and imprecise use of language, the IDF statement concluded this statement by noting that “The Spokesman for the US State Department, Philip Crowley, also discussed the event during a press conference in Washington.  According to him, ‘the shootings by the Lebanese army towards IDF forces on the northern border are completely unjustified’.  Crowley also stressed that the pruning work executed by the IDF took place in Israeli territory“.

Actually, Crowley did not attibute that exact piece of territory to Israel.   Despite what the IDF wrote in their statement, a consultation of the transcript provided by the U.S.  State Department shows Assistant Secretary Philip J. Crowley told journalists at the daily State Department briefing in Washington on Wednesday that what Crowley said was this:  “The United Nations has now established that the trees cut by the Israeli Defense Forces were on the Israeli side of the line that separates Israel and Lebanon [n.b. – Crowley himself also carelessly and imprecisely used the word “border” a couple of times, later, but he was very careful not to say that the territory in question belonged to Israel].  The firing by Lebanese Armed Forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted”.

Then, there was this exchange with a journalist at the State Department briefing:

QUESTION: Are the lines of demarcation along that border clearly defined? Do you know from the line?

MR. CROWLEY: I can only cite information reported today that the precise border is a matter of some dispute between the two countries. I’m not here to get involved in the middle of that.

QUESTION: One last quick follow-up. Are you concerned that the Israeli army might take this as a pretext to strike across the Lebanese border?

MR. CROWLEY: We certainly, as we have made clear yesterday and today and will continue to make clear, we do not think that this incident should escalate any further.

QUESTION: Do you take a – do you have any position on the actual tree trimming –

MR. CROWLEY: Again –

QUESTION: — in terms of whether – no, no, this is a serious question. I’m not suggesting that –

MR. CROWLEY: No, it is a serious question.

QUESTION: — tree surgeons be brought in to be part of the UNIFIL team.  But I am wondering if you think that that in itself is a provocative – if that is provocative.

MR. CROWLEY: Well, the idea that you would have tree trimmings so you have clear sightlines across the border so that you would hope that these clear sightlines would prevent misunderstandings or unfortunate actions on side or the other. So – but the issue that I’m sure was covered today was whether there was proper notification that there was going to be this kind of activity on one side of the border. And if there was that kind of notification, how was it received on the other side? And precisely, what led to the circumstances where the Lebanese Armed Forces fired on the Israelis?

QUESTION: But your position would be then if there was proper notification, then it shouldn’t be a problem.

MR. CROWLEY: I don’t think we’re against tree trimming along the border if it improves – if it increases security along the border”…

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