Israel says overflights will continue over Lebanon, despite UN saying they should stop

The Israeli English-language newspaper, Jerusalem Post, is reporting today, in an article entitled “UN chief raps IAF Lebanon overflights“, that: “[A] high-ranking IAF officer told The Jerusalem Post that Israel planned to continue flying over Lebanon until the Lebanese fully implemented 1701, which included the return of abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and put an end to the arms smuggling to Hizbullah across the Syrian border”.

The article, written by Yaakov Katz with contributions from Herb Keinon and AP, states: “Citing continued violations of the Blue Line international border between Israel and Lebanon, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon slammed Israel in a report he submitted to the Security Council last week on the implementation of Resolution 1701 that ended the Lebanon war last summer. Contradicting claims by high-ranking IAF officers that Israel had dramatically reduced the number of flights over Lebanon, Ban claimed the opposite saying that UNIFIL had reported an increase in overflights in February and March. On some days, the report claimed, Israel violated Lebanese airspace more than 10 times with flights by fighter jets, intelligence-gathering planes and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. … Ban noted reports by UNIFIL of increased tensions between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and IDF along the Blue Line, citing a number of cases in which soldiers from both militaries pointed their weapons at one another. Ban also took Israel to task on its repeated refusal to transfer data related to the use of cluster bombs by the IDF during the Lebanon war. The report revealed the extent of the use of cluster bombs, claiming that Israel had dropped them on 854 targets covering more than 34 million square meters. According to the report, each strike location contains hundreds of individual bomblets or sub-munitions and as of February 22, the bomblets have caused 22 civilian deaths and 159 injuries. ‘I call on the government of Israel, once again, to review its policy of overflights through Lebanese airspace, which are a continuing violation of Resolution 1701 (2006), and most urgently to provide the UN with all information on cluster munitions fired during the 2006 conflict’, Ban wrote in the report. In response, a senior government official said that Israel’s use of cluster bombs was in ‘complete compliance with international law’ and came in the face of ‘overwhelming attacks’ against Israeli civilian targets. Regarding Israeli claims that Syria was smuggling weapons into Lebanon, Ban suggested that Security Council members weigh supporting an ‘independent assessment mission to consider the monitoring of the border’. He said the authentication of detailed information from Israel about alleged breaches of the arms embargo across the Lebanese-Syrian border would require independent military assessment. In the report, Ban warned that without progress on ‘core issues’ including the abducted soldiers and Lebanese prisoners as well as the disputed Sheba Farms and Israeli overflights, ‘progress on 1701 could be severely tested in the months to come’. Ban said he was nonetheless pleased that the overall commitment of the governments of Israel and Lebanon to the resolution “remains strong’.” [!]

UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was adopted on 11 March 2006. The most recent report of the UN SG on its implementation was due to be released on 16 March.

UN-Truth has previously reported on the good works of the UNIFIL battallions — including the Spanish lessons being given by Spanish peacekeepers. The San Francisco Chronicle adds, in a report published today, that an Indian battallion is giving very popular yoga classes. It also says: “UNIFIL has monitored Lebanon’s southern border with Israel since 1978, but in the aftermath of last summer’s war, its numbers swelled to 12,000 armed soldiers deployed across south Lebanon, south of the Litani River, in line with U.N. Resolution 1701. A further 10,000 Lebanese troops have been deployed to the area, tasked with preventing any militia groups, first among them the radical Shiite group Hezbollah, from carrying weapons south of the Litani River. U.N. peacekeepers now make up to 400 patrols a day, said McDowall, accessing ‘all areas’ of south Lebanon, a land that was formerly tightly controlled by Hezbollah. ‘We continue to turn up rockets and weapons’, he said. ‘The Lebanese army are performing well and their activities are closely coordinated with us. But it is still a very delicate situation in the south’. Though UNIFIL officials say no armed Hezbollah fighters have been seen moving weapons inside the U.N. force’s area of operation since September, there is growing evidence to suggest the militants have simply moved the majority of their rockets and ammunition north of the Litani River, out of reach of UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. A reporter for the Times of London recently found evidence of Hezbollah fighters building a new line of armed defense just north of the Litani, while a Hezbollah member of parliament said his group had no plans to disarm. ‘I can assure you the resistance is still here’, Hezbollah lawmaker Nawar Sahili said. ‘We are now leaving the south of the Litani for UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. But if Israel attacks Lebanon again, I do not think UNIFIL will defend the country, and the Lebanese army is too weak, so it will be our duty to defend Lebanon again’. Though communities in the south generally have been welcoming of UNIFIL’s presence, a number of incidents in south Lebanon over the past few weeks have begun to strain relations between the peacekeepers and the local populace. A team of French medics was temporarily expelled from Maroun al-Ras, a Hezbollah stronghold, after villagers complained the troops were protecting Israel, not them. Hezbollah has warned UNIFIL against ‘spying’, an accusation that has further heightened tensions.
Meanwhile, 15 young men were briefly arrested in Marjayoun, a town 2 1/2 miles from the border with Israel, after throwing stones at Spanish troops, who locals said had angered the community by raiding a house in search of weapons. The accusation could not be independently verified. Ahmed Hassan, a council leader of Khiyam, one of the towns in south Lebanon worst hit by last summer’s Israeli bombardment, described relations with the Spanish troops as ‘dry’. ‘We are with UNIFIL and we thank them for their work here’, said Hassan. ‘But UNIFIL (troops) are just observers, and if the Israelis decide to bomb us again, the UN will be the first to be hit again’, he said, referring to the July 25 Israeli strike on a U.N. observation post just outside Khiyam, which killed three U.N. observers.”

Robert Fisk gave an on-the-spot description of UNIFIL’s situation in an article published in the Independent on Monday 19 March: “The spring rain beat down like ball-bearings on the flat roof of General Claudio Graziano’s office. Much of southern Lebanon looked like a sea of mud this week but all was optimism and light for the Italian commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, now 11,000 strong and still expecting South Korea to add to his remarkable 29-nation international army. He didn’t recall how the French battalion almost shot down an Israeli jet last year – it was before his time – and he dismissed last month’s border shoot-out between Israeli and Lebanese troops. No specific threats had been directed at Unifil, the UN’s man in southern Lebanon insisted – though I noticed he paused for several seconds before replying to my question – and his own force was now augmented by around 9,000 Lebanese troops patrolling on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier. There was some vague talk of ‘terrorist threats … associated with al-Qa’ida’ – UN generals rarely use the word ‘terrorism’, but then again Graziano is also a Nato general — yet nothing hard. Yes, Lebanese army intelligence was keeping him up to date. So it must have come as a shock to the good general when the Lebanese Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh last week announced that a Lebanese Internal Security Force unit had arrested four Syrian members of a Palestinian ‘terrorist group’ linked to al-Qa’ida and working for the Syrian intelligence services who were said to be responsible for leaving bombs in two Lebanese minibuses on 13 February, killing three civilians and wounding another 20.
Now it has to be said that there’s a lot of scepticism about this story. Not because Syria has, inevitably, denied any connection to Lebanese bombings but because in a country that has never in 30 years solved a political murder, it’s pretty remarkable that the local Lebanese constabulary can solve this one – and very conveniently so since Mr Sabeh’s pro-American government continues to accuse Syria of all things bestial in the state of Lebanon. According to the Lebanese government – one of those anonymous sources so beloved of the press – the arrested men were also planning attacks on Unifil and had maps of the UN’s military patrol routes in the south of the country. And a drive along the frontier with Israel shows that the UN is taking no chances. Miles of razor wire and 20ft concrete walls protect many of its units.
The Italians, like their French counterparts, have created little ‘green zones’ – we Westerners seem to be doing that all over the Middle East – where carabinieri police officers want photo identity cards for even the humblest of reporters. These are combat units complete with their own armour and tanks although no-one could explain to me this week in what circumstances the tanks could possibly be used and I rather suspect they don’t know. Surely they won’t fire at the Israelis and – unless they want to go to war with the Hizbollah – I cannot imagine French Leclerc tanks are going to be shooting at the Middle East’s most disciplined guerrilla fighters. But Unifil, like it or not, is on only one side of the border, the Lebanese side, and despite their improving relations with the local Shia population — the UN boys are going in for cash handouts to improve water supplies and roads, ‘quick impact projects’ as they are called in the awful UN-speak of southern Lebanon – there are few Lebanese who do not see them as a buffer force to protect Israel. Last year’s UN Resolution 1701 doesn’t say this, but it does call for ‘the disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon’. This was a clause, of course, which met with the enthusiastic approval of the United States. For ‘armed groups’, read Hizbollah. The reality is that Washington is now much more deeply involved in Lebanon’s affairs than most people, even the Lebanese, realise. Indeed there is a danger that – confronted by its disastrous ‘democratic’ experiment in Iraq – the US government is now turning to Lebanon to prove its ability to spread democracy in the Middle East. Needless to say, the Americans and the British have been generous in supplying the Lebanese army with new equipment, jeeps and Humvees and anti-riot gear (to be used against who, I wonder?)”

The Israeli Cabinet on Sunday 18 March ‘discussed the provision of rent payment assistance to veterans of the former South Lebanon Army and decided – in continuation of its 12.3.06 decision () – to extend current eligibility for another six month’. These are people who collaborated with the Israeli occupation of South Lebanon from 1976 until the unilateral Israel withdrawal in May 2000, and who sought refuge in Israel rather than face punishment by Lebanese authorities. What will happen with their rent assistance in six months’ time?

Robert Fisk recently wrote about these South Lebanon Army types in an article in the Independent entitled “Torture in Lebanon via a Toronto stage”, published on 10 March:
“…there really was a girl who posed as a schoolteacher to murder a militia leader. Her name was Soad Bshara and she was a Christian leftist, not a Shia – I’ve even met the man who gave her the gun to kill the militia leader – and she did indeed attempt to assassinate him. But General Antoine Lahd did not die. He showed me his wounds – two bullet holes – not long after his return to Lebanon from hospital in Israel. He was one of Israel’s ruthless proxy warlords in Lebanon and he was in charge of the same brutal Israeli-controlled prison in which Bshara was subsequently locked up. She was not raped, but she was beaten and endured years of custody until the French government organised her release; she lives today in Paris while Lahd, after the collapse of his cruel ‘South Lebanon Army’ in 2000, now lives in Tel Aviv where he runs – wait for it – a nightclub. However, there certainly were well-trained torturers in Lahd’s jail – its real name was Khiam prison and it was turned by the Hizbollah into a museum until being largely destroyed in last summer’s war. The sadists of Khiam used to electrocute the penises of their prisoners and throw water over their bodies before plunging electrodes into their chests and kept them in pitch-black, solitary confinement for months. For many years, the Israelis even banned the Red Cross from visiting their foul prison. All the torturers fled across the border into Israel when the Israeli army retreated under fire from Lebanon almost seven years ago. … The Israelis, of course, didn’t mention their role in Khiam’s horrors – which is why, several years ago, two members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police turned up at my home to ask if I could identify any torturers who might have been given asylum in Canada. I told them that their names were now written on the gates of Khiam prison.”

Meanwhile, the UN SC Council President, Dumisani S. Kumalo of South Africa told journalists on 2 March that Serge Brammertz, head of the Commission investigating the death of former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri, would brief the UN Security Council on 21 March.

A post on the Angry Arab blogspot yesterday denounced the “waste” involved in the UN inquiry: “Of course, I have no interest and no curiosity regarding the identify of Rafiq Hariri’s assassins. I just don’t care personally especially when the Hariri family has taken Lebanon to the brink of civil war all in the name of ‘finding the truth’. I have posted my thinking on this previously. I get upset whenever I read yet another UN report about the investigation. You read it and realize that millions are being spent–no, wasted–on this matter. I am more interested in finding out the identity of those who collaborated with the Israeli war on Lebanon–in Lebanon and beyond. I wish the money of the Hariri’s assassination is spent on some other more useful purpose. And the Syrian regime and its allies in Lebanon continue to praise the professionalism of the new investigator, Braamertz. How foolish they are. Just because the UN, the US really, sent a more quiet and less clumsy and crude investigator, does not mean that this is a ‘professional’ or ‘independent’ investigation. All that comes out of the UN after the end of the Cold War is tainted by US intervention and manipulation. Yes, I said ALL. Paragraph 63 of the new report all but names the Syrian regime as the party that killed Hariri. Syrian officials have not noticed yet. They are busy putting people in jail.”

And, two fascinating news agency reports were published on Saturday in the English-language Tehran Times:
(1) Reuters reports from the UN that “A UN inquiry into the murder of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri will take air samples from five Middle East nations after it found the suspected suicide bomber grew up in a polluted city. Belgian prosecutor Serge Brammertz, the head of the investigation, said in his seventh report to the UN Security Council on Thursday that he was unlikely to meet a current June deadline and would need more time. Brammertz has previously reported that the suspected suicide bomber — who killed Hariri and 22 others on February 14, 2005 — had not spent his youth in Lebanon, but had likely spent two or three months there before his death.
‘The commission can now add that the man had significant exposure to lead pollution in an urban environment up to the age of about 12, and that such exposure was low during the last 10 years of his life, possibly indicating that he lived in a more rural environment during this period’, the report said after tests on remains of the bomber. It said that to continue this line of inquiry 112 samples had been collected from 28 locations in Lebanon and Syria. ‘Over the coming weeks, it will collect samples in three other countries in the region and further countries are identified for another series of sampling missions’, it said. Syria, whose officials had been implicated by Brammertz’s predecessor in the Hariri assassination, was cooperating with the commission, the report said. Syria denies involvement in the Hariri slaying, which took place after the former prime minister accused Damascus of meddling in Lebanese politics. Street protests in Lebanon after the killing prompted Syria to withdraw forces that had been in the country for 22 years…The Security Council has also asked Brammertz to look at 16 other politically motivated cases, including the November 21 assassination of Lebanese Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel.”

(2) Agence France Presse says: “UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will pay an official visit to Lebanon on March 30, a government source told AFP on Friday. ‘During his visit, Mr. Ban will be received by (Prime Minister Fuad) Siniora’, the source said.
It will be the first trip to Lebanon by the new UN chief, who took over from Kofi Annan on January 1. Ban is due to visit Egypt on March 23, probably followed by Riyadh where he has been invited by Arab League chief Amr Mussa to attend an Arab summit on March 28 and 29. Lebanon’s four-month-long political crisis will be one of the major topics discussed at the Riyadh summit.”

So, what will SG BAN be doing between his visit to Egypt on 23 March, and his visit to Riyadh on 28 and 29 March? Any bets? (Israel-occupied Palestinian territory?)

Haaretz reports one Lebanese killed, another injured, by unexploded cluster bomb near Nabatiyeh

Haaretz newspaper is running an AP (Associated Press news agency) report from Beirut that one 41-year-old worker was killed instantly, and his 21-year-old nephew was badly wounded, earlier today while working at a construction site in the village of Kfar Tibnit, near Nabatiyeh, when an unexploded “cluster bomb from Israel’s war against Lebanon exploded in southern Lebanon”.

The report added that “It was not immediately clear what caused the bomb to explode – whether one man stepped on it or whether it was activated by the movement of some building materials”.

It said that “The United Nations and human rights groups have accused Israel of dropping as many as 4 million cluster bombs on Lebanon during the July-August war with the militant Hezbollah group. United Nations ordnance clearing experts have said that up to 1 million cluster bombs failed to explode and continue to threaten civilians. At least 25 people have died in cluster bomb explosions in Lebanon since the war ended in a UN-brokered cease-fire on August 14.”

The UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre for South Lebanon reports on its website, last updated on 28 November, that “There have been 23 reported fatalities and 145 reported injuries from all types of unexploded ordnance in Lebanon. Of these totals, children 18 years old or younger accounted for six of the fatalities and 55 of the injuries, according to MACC-SL. All the fatalities and most of the injuries resulted from cluster munitions.”

The UNMACC says that “Most cluster bomblets were delivered by rockets or artillery. A limited number appear to have been dropped by aircraft (BLU-63-type bombs). Official and complete statistics about the quantity of cluster bombs used are not available. However, an extrapolation based partly on likely failure or ‘dud’ rates of munitions and partly on media reports about the extent to which various types of cluster bombs were used indicates that up to 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets may be on the ground.”

It notes that “Unexploded cluster bomblets pose an immediate threat to returnees and humanitarian workers. They also pose a threat to the deployment of an enhanced UNIFIL peacekeeping force”

And, it says that “An estimated 12 to 15 months will be needed to clear the cluster bomblets from southern Lebanon.”

UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which has a reinforced mandate following last summer’s Israeli attack on Lebanon, reported on 11 October that: “Since the 14 August cessation of hostilities, the UNIFIL Chinese Battalion has surveyed over 140,000 sq. metres of areas suspected of having unexploded ordnances (UXOs) and cluster bomb units (CBUs) and destroyed over 3800 of these UXOs and CBUs.

“Additional de-mining activities are conducted by the French, Italian and Spanish battalions. Most of the CBUs disposed since 14 August are from the Al Hinniyah area where many civilians reside…

“The CBUs present a threat not only to civilians, but also to UNIFIL and Lebanese Army troops deployed in the South.

“UNIFIL de-mining experts are worried about the worsening weather during the winter months when the soil becomes softer because of the rain. The CBUs then might sink into the ground. ‘This will make the job more dangerous since it becomes difficult to detect and clear the suspected contaminated areas. UNIFIL de-mining teams and UXO disposal units are trying to remove as many as they can before the winter season,’ according to Alexander Ivanko, UNIFIL Spokesman.

“In his Report of 12 September 2006 on the implementation of Security Council Resolution 1701, the UN Secretary-General said that ‘While IDF has provided some maps to UNIFIL regarding cluster strikes, they are not specific enough to be of use to operators on the ground. I expect that Israel will provide further detailed information to UNIFIL regarding the exact location, quantity and type of cluster munitions utilized during the conflict. In addition to cluster munitions, unexploded bombs, rockets, mortars and other ordnance also litter the south and areas in the north and east of Lebanon.’ ”

A UNIFIL press release dated 9 October, however, reported that:

“On 9 October, the UNIFIL Acting Force Commander Brig.-General J.P. Nehra met with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

During the meeting, the IDF provided UNIFIL the maps of minefields in South Lebanon as of June 2000 after their withdrawal.

UNIFIL handed over these maps to the UN Mine Action Coordination Center and to the LAF for review.”