Some background on the Shebaa Farms

Some interesting details on the Shebaa Farms issue from Nicholas Blanford in The National, an English-language paper published in Abu Dhabi :

“Securing the liberation of the Shebaa Farms has been a cornerstone of Fouad Siniora’s diplomacy since 2005 when he headed his first government. Mr Siniora said he believes that an Israeli withdrawal from the rugged mountainside would end Israel’s occupation of Lebanese territory, thus undermining Hizbollah’s rationale for retaining its weapons for resistance. Although Mr Siniora energetically marketed his scheme to US officials, Washington adopted an ambivalent view, preferring to side with Israel’s refusal to hand back the farms without any guarantees that Hizbollah would disarm.
However, the new US interest in promoting an Israeli withdrawal from the farms apparently stems from a willingness by Israel to yield the territory in the context of continuing indirect negotiations with Syria and the hope that the peace talks can be extended to Lebanon. ‘From the onset of this government, which calls for the freedom of the Shebaa Farms … this topic has been a priority’, Mr Siniora said last week. ‘Israel must withdraw without any direct or indirect negotiations and without any contact between Lebanon and Israel’. He said the fate of Hizbollah’s weapons would be discussed once the new government is formed.

“The Shebaa Farms were occupied by Israel after the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war in which the Golan Heights were seized and later annexed. In May 2000, the United Nations ruled that the Shebaa Farms was Syrian – not Lebanese – territory occupied by Israel and its fate was subject to future Israeli-Syrian negotiations. Lebanon rejected the finding and in Oct 2000 Hizbollah launched a resistance campaign of sporadic hit-and-run raids against Israeli troops in the farms. After the end of the 2006 Hizbollah-Israel war, the United Nations agreed to re-examine Lebanon’s case for claiming the Shebaa Farms as a means of further cementing the cessation of hostilities. It is now widely accepted that Lebanon’s case is valid, particularly as Syria has backed Lebanon’s claim, strengthening the proposal for the farms to be placed temporarily under UN jurisdiction until Lebanon and Syria demarcate their joint border.

“Although the occupation of the Shebaa Farms is seen as the main justification for Hizbollah’s continued armed status, there are several other outstanding disputes that the Shiite party occasionally raises – releasing all Lebanese detainees in Israeli prisons as well as receiving maps of old Israeli minefields in south Lebanon and the co-ordinates of cluster bomb strikes in the 2006 war. These two grievances could be resolved in the coming days or weeks, especially with speculation that a prisoner swap between Hizbollah and Israel is imminent.

“More arcane disputes include the return of the so-called ‘Seven Villages’ and Lebanon’s objection to three points along the Blue Line, the UN-delineated boundary corresponding to the international border between Lebanon and Israel that was drawn up in 2000 and behind which Israel was obliged to withdraw to fulfil UN resolutions. The three anomalies along the Blue Line where Israel gained some Lebanese territory is not regarded as a genuine excuse for Hizbollah to keep its arms because the line is not the border, just a temporary and technical measure by which to gauge Israel’s troop withdrawal. Any differences over the delineation of the 1922 border would be discussed at peace talks between Lebanon and Israel”…

The full report by Nicholas Blanford can be read here /a>.

A "Prague Spring" in the Middle East?

Peace appears to be breaking out all over, after one of the gloomiest recent periods in the region, during which speculation about imminent war has been nearly non-stop .

The truce or calm (“tahdiya”) between Israel and Hamas – which the parties say they hope will last at least an initial six months — started at 0600 Thursday morning.

A comment this week by a Syrian official this week that peace with Israel would be “bliss” caused pulses to race — not only in Israel.

And, despite a pro-forma Lebanese rebuff, an Israeli overture to Lebanon, following U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s surprise visit there earlier this week – after which it has been reported that she is now backing the return of the Shebaa Farms area to Lebanon (as Hizballah has insisted) – also appears to hold future promise. If true, it is an astonishing but eminently pragmatic decision – indicating that the Bush Administration might be ready to shed its highly-ideological positions in order to make some solid moves for peace in the region.

The Israeli overture appears to contradict its satisfaction when the UN (after strong urging by the Secretary-General’s special envoy, Norwegian former Oslo negotiator Terje Roed Larsen) said that the information it had on file suggested that the area was part of occupied Syrian territory, a position close to Israel’s own view. Israel, until now, has felt it only needed to address the issue of relinquishing Shebaa Farms when the time would eventually come – in a far distant future – to make peace with Syria. One of the arguments made by UN officials is that neither Syria nor Lebanon had made their positions perfectly clear in writing.

But. a week ago, Lebanon indicated it would be formally presenting its claim – in writing – to the UN Secretary-General in New York.

After a period of anxious dragged-out uncertainty, all these developments now appear to be converging at a dizzying speed.

The Egyptian-brokered “tahdiya” between Israel and Hamas is being explained primarily, by all sides, as a “face-saving” way of ending the Israeli military-imposed sanctions on Gaza that all reasonable observers now say has, in fact, caused the humanitarian crisis that the Israeli military and political leadership has promised the international community it would not allow to happen.

An Israeli media report in advance of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s recent visit to Washington said that he would be told that the closure and siege of Gaza had failed, had become counter-productive, and must be ended.

The Jerusalem Post reported in early June that a “a senior State Department official told the Post that policy has appeared to have backfired. Palestinian rocket attacks against southern Israel have continued and Hamas is gaining strength due to popular disaffection, while Hamas can still get the resources it needs. “Within Gaza, Hamas seems the least affected by the closure,” he said. A new approach must be found “that wouldn’t benefit Hamas… but to find that new approach is very difficult because Hamas is in control.”

However this policy turn-around was packaged and justified is of rather lesser importance than the fact that it appears to be getting underway.

Rice hinted, in remarks she made at a joint press conference with Palestinian President Abbas this week, that European displeasure with the overall situation was a factor which needed to be taken into account.

Amnesty International reported from London at the end of May, in its 6oth anniversary annual report, that “in June [2007], the Israeli government imposed an unprecedented blockade on the Gaza Strip, virtually imprisoning its entire 1.5 million people population, subjecting them to collective punishment and causing the gravest humanitarian crisis to date.”

The UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights situation in the occupied Palestinian territory stated starkly, in a report published this week in Geneva, that “regular military incursions, the closure of crossings, the reduction of fuel and the threat to the banking system have produced a humanitarian crisis in Gaza”.

And, even many Israelis appeared to be fed up with the situation, at least as indicated in an independent poll commissioned by the Israeli human rights organization Gisha. The results of the poll, released on Wednesday (yesterday), indicated that “Seventy-nine percent of respondents believe that the closure primarily affects the civilian population in Gaza and causes hardships in the daily lives of the residents”, Gisha reported.

Gisha reported that “the survey was conducted upon the one-year anniversary of the closure Israel imposed following the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June 2007”.

Intriguingly, the poll also reported that “Seventy-six percent believe that Gaza residents deserve human rights. Fifty-seven percent disagree with a statement that those who advocate for human rights on behalf of Palestinians are anti-Israel; 39% think these advocates are anti-Israel”.

The poll did not, however, seem to dare to ask whether or not the respondents believed that the closure of Gaza and the Israeli military-administered sanctions were collective punishment that are immoral and illegal under international law – a position that Gisha itself has consistently espoused.

But, Gisha Director, Sari Bashi, wrote that “It turns out that the Israeli public is more realistic than the politicians acting in its name, who are trying to justify a gross violation of the rights of Palestinian civilians, using a ‘security’ justification that most Israelis think has no basis … Israeli decision-makers would do well to listen to the people, who are warning them that Israel ‘s policy in Gaza is primarily harming Palestinian civilians – against Israel ‘s own interests.”

And, AFP reported from Gaza Thursday that the Hamas (and “deposed”) Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told reporters “on an unusually conciliatory note” that the truce could also offer “comfort” to Israelis who have suffered shelling from Gaza.

Rather than signaling a permanent separation between the West Bank and Gaza, as some analysts had predicted, this “tahdiya” appears to be somehow linked, both conceptually and politically, to a reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas administration in Gaza – despite official Ramallah’s previous reluctance.


One of the biggest surprises after last year’s rout of Fatah security forces by Hamas in Gaza was the vicious and venomous attitude of the Fatah losers.

“Hamas is worse than Israel – Hamas is like the Nazis”, more than one of the evacuated Fatah personnel said excitedly to journalists, including this one.

Over the past year, most Palestinians have been as angry with the Fatah rivalry with Hamas and its complicated consequence as with the increasing burdens of the continuing Israeli occupation.

To the surprise of many international observers, who have become conditioned to thinking of Fatah as the “good guys”, many Palestinians blamed Fatah even more than Hamas — though strong criticism of Hamas was not lacking.

Sitting in the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah last year, where many of the Fatah evacuees spent their early days after getting out of the Gaza Strip in various surprising ways (some even via sea in coordination with both Egypt and Israel), and still in a state of shock, one man on crutches with his lower leg in surgical support bandages, one Fatah member said to this corresponsent, with a perfectly straight expression on his face: “Hamas has killed other Palestinians – Fatah never did that”.

Challenged on his point that Fatah had never harmed other Palestinians, he continued to resist the argument. “Name me names”, he insisted. “Tell me who, exactly, was killed by Fatah?”

He said that what upset him most – and his voice cracked and his eyes swelled with tears as he spoke –was seeing the late Yasser Arafat’s uniform, looted from one of the buildings that Hamas fighters entered during the fighting, on sale in the Gaza City market for a relatively few shekels.

Like the other evacuees, he got out of the Gaza Strip with his lives, but without his family. He was worried about his family left behind, and he said that one of his young daughters was so scared and upset that she had to be hospitalized.

That would not happen now, of course, in Gaza, where hospital services and facilities are so limited due to the Israeli military-administered sanctions that have caused so much suffering in the coastal strip over the past months, and resources previously devoted to such tender treatment of more priviledged patients might well be foregone now in favor of rather more urgent cases.

Recently, the Minister of Health in the “deposed” or “de facto” Government trying to function in Gaza, Bassem Naim, appealed for the return to work of thousands of badly-needed Ministry of Health employees who have been paid from Ramallah to stay home, and not work since last year’s “military coup” by Hamas in Gaza — and the subsequent “political coup” by President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, who dismissed the Hamas-led National Unity Government formed only a few months earlier after Saudi mediation efforts in the holy city of Medina.

This was only one of the absurd consequences of the Fatah-Hamas rivalry – which an article published in the April issue the American monthly magazine Vanity Fair magazine argued – with convincing testimony – was encouraged by the U.S. Administration in an effort to oust Hamas, which was regarded as an obstacle to peace with Israel.

Palestinian Authority technocrats in Ramallah did their best to negotiate with their multiple Israeli counterparts to get whatever vital supplies they could into Gaza – and the negotiations were complicated and intricate, both with the Israeli private sector (the Dor Alon fuel company which has the exclusive contract to deliver fuel to Gaza, paid for either by the Palestinian Authority of – in the case of the special industrial diesel fuel used only by Gaza’s Power Plant, by Europen Union donors), and with the various branches of the Israeli Government, bureaucracy including the Ministry of Finance, and, most importantly, the Ministry of Defense as well as the Israeli Defense Forces.

But, these technocrats reported in recent months that attacks from Gaza on the border crossings seemed specifically aimed at exacerbating the various crises – particularly the shortage of fuel.

Israeli Government spokespersons were also quick to seize on the apparent paradox – the attackers on Israeli crossings, the Israeli spokespersons said in chorus, were really victimizing their own people.

Other sources, including some in the Palestinian media, said that these attacks on the crossing were ordered by Fatah in order to provoke Israel into a full-scale invasion of Gaza.

A few foreign journalists, on the other hand, said they were told that the attacks on the crossings were being carried out by various families (“hamula”) who were putting on pressure to stop Israeli and Egyptian efforts to close down their smuggling tunnels that ran under the border to the Sinai.

It was – and remains – very difficult to know what actually was going on.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary-General welcomed the announced Israel/Gaza Cessation of Violence, saying in a statement issued in New York that he “hopes that these efforts will both provide security and an easing of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and end rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli targets. He also hopes that this cessation of violence will lead to a controlled and sustained opening of the Gaza crossings for humanitarian and commercial purposes”.

The UN Chief might have gone even further than that diplomatic phrasing, and said that he hoped that the Gaza crossings would be opened for all normal aspects of human life

Winograd Committee final report

“A semi-military organization of a few thousand men resisted, for a few weeks, the strongest army in the Middle East, which enjoyed full air superiority and size and technology advantages. The barrage of rockets aimed at Israel’s civilian population lasted throughout the war, and the IDF did not provide an effective response to it. The fabric of life under fire was seriously disrupted, and many civilians either left their home temporarily or spent their time in shelters. After a long period of using only standoff fire power and limited ground activities, Israel initiated a large scale ground offensive, very close to the Security Council resolution imposing a cease fire. This offensive did not result in military gains and was not completed. These facts had far-reaching implications for us, as well as for our enemies, our neighbors, and our friends in the region and around the world”.

“The decision made in the night of July 12th – to react (to the kidnapping) with immediate and substantive military action, and to set for it ambitious goals – limited Israel’s range of options. In fact, after the initial decision had been made, Israel had only two main options, each with its coherent internal logic, and its set of costs and disadvantages. The first was a short, painful, strong and unexpected blow on Hezbollah, primarily through standoff fire-power. The second option was to bring about a significant change of the reality in the South of Lebanon with a large ground operation, including a temporary occupation of the South of Lebanon and ‘cleaning’ it of Hezbollah military infrastructure”.

“…the way the original decision to go to war had been made; the fact Israel went to war before it decided which option to select, and without an exit strategy – all these constituted serious failures, which affected the whole war. Responsibility for these failures lay, as we had stressed in the Interim Report, on both the political and the military echelons. After the initial decision to use military force, and to the very end of the war, this period of ‘equivocation’ continued, with both the political and the military echelon not deciding between the two options: amplifying the military achievement by a broad military ground offensive, or abstaining from such a move and seeking to end the war quickly. This ‘equivocation’ did hurt Israel. Despite awareness of this fact, long weeks passed without a serious discussion of these options, and without a decision – one way or the other – between them. In addition to avoiding a decision about the trajectory of the military action, there was a very long delay in the deployment necessary for an extensive ground offensive, which was another factor limiting Israel’s freedom of action and political flexibility: Till the first week of August, Israel did not prepare the military capacity to start a massive ground operation. As a result, Israel did not stop after its early military achievements, and was ‘dragged’ into a ground operation only after the political and diplomatic timetable prevented its effective completion. The responsibility for this basic failure in conducting the war lies at the doorstep of both the political and the military echelons…”

“Israel did not use its military force well and effectively, despite the fact that it was a limited war initiated by Israel itself. At the end of the day, Israel did not gain a political achievement because of military successes; rather, it relied on a political agreement, which included positive elements for Israel, which permitted it to stop a war which it had failed to win. Continue reading Winograd Committee final report

UN waffling as Israel hedges the status of Shebaa Farms

Aluf Benn reported in Haaretz last week that: “The United Nations cartographer Miklos Pinter is in Israel this week to move ahead on the specifics of marking the controversial boundaries of the Shaba Farms on the slopes of Mount Hermon, government sources in Jerusalem said. Pinter said a few weeks ago that based on maps and other documents he had received from the Lebanese government, the area of the farms was between 20 to 40 square kilometers. Pinter, who had been the UN’s chief cartographer, headed the team that marked the ‘blue line’, the Israel-Lebanon boundary following Israel’s withdrawal from Southern Lebanon in May 2000. He had since retired, but was called back into service to help solve the dispute over Shaba.

Lebanon claims that the farms are its territory, while Israel says they are part of Syrian territory conquered in 1967 along with the Golan Heights, and should be dealt with as part of negotiations with the Syrians, a position the UN supported in 2000.

However Lebanon never gave up its claim, and during last year’s war, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora proposed that Israel ‘deposit’ the disputed territory with the UN until Syria and Lebanon mark the border between them and decide the matter. The UN agreed to mark the area as an interim step until diplomatic progress is made. The UN’s action on the matter is seen as a counterweight to moving ahead on Israel’s demand to monitor weapons smuggling from Syria to Hezbollah …
Continue reading UN waffling as Israel hedges the status of Shebaa Farms

Of course the UN knew about the Iraqi chemicals they brought to NYC

Nobody knew what else to do, apparently — and they were absolutely unwilling to take any initiative other than to bring vials of Iraqi chemical weapons to NYC. They stored them in a drawer at UNHQ/NY. Some people knew about this, and talked about it in scandalized tones with family and friends. But they did not do anything about it. That’s what UN officials normally think is proper, diplomatic behavior.  NEVER rock the boat — at least not in a way that would reflect upon oneself. There have been rumors about vials of viral and biological agents, too.

Let us not forget the many thousands of U.S. dollars stored in a UN office safe in Somalia — the officials had no instructions from UNHQ/NY, and they couldn’t think of what else to do. The safe was stolen. The employees were punished for their decision.

Let us not forget the video recordings of Hezbollah’s seizure of several Israeli soldiers at the Shebaa Farms area — also hidden in a drawer in a UN office, and it took the exposure of a number of news stories to push the UN to screen the films for the soldiers’ families.

Today, the UN News Centre is reporting the latest absolutely absurd and ridiculous story:
“Last Friday, UNMOVIC staff discovered two small plastic packages with metal and glass containers — ranging in size from small vials to tubes the length of a pen — holding unknown liquid substances, UN spokesperson Marie Okabe told reporters. The find was made during the process of archiving UNMOVIC’s offices in New York, near the UN Headquarters building, as the Commission winds down after the Security Council terminated its mandate in June. Ms. Okabe said an initial probe revealed that the packages were recovered in 1996 from Al Muthanna, a former Iraqi chemical weapons facility, by inspectors with the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM), the predecessor of UNMOVIC…
Continue reading Of course the UN knew about the Iraqi chemicals they brought to NYC

Israel announces stand-down in tension with Syria

Last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon has provoked year-long speculation about a repeat performance this year. Some commentators have recently said that summer lasts a few more months here than in other places of the world, so, they said, the danger still persists.

Today, Israel announced that it is moving its troops — at least, it is rotating them — out of the Golan Heights that it seized from Syria in the aftermath of the June 1967 war. [In 1980, in an apparent fit of pique, Israel announced that it had “annexed” the Golan Heights, and it offered Israeli citizenship to its residents — not all of whom accepted the offer.]

The AP reported that “The decision by Israel’s military followed months of growing tensions along the frontier and concerns that the escalation could result in war. Over the summer, media reports of impending war alternated with announcements by Syrian and Israeli leaders that they had no interest in hostilities. The Israeli officials said Syria’s military has now reduced its war readiness, but offered no details because the exact steps taken by the Syrians are classified. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge the information to the press. Israeli forces scheduled to hold maneuvers on the Golan Heights would now be moved away from the border to the country’s south to further reduce friction, the officials said, and the army’s war-readiness status on the Israel-Syria border is now considered over … Syria demands that Israel return the heights in return for peace, but negotiations between the sides last broke down in 2000 over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal.”
Read the full AP report here.

Haaretz is reporting that “The IDF had previously increased its training exercises in the Golan Heights since the end of the Second Lebanon War last summer.”
Read the Haaretz story here.

Continue reading Israel announces stand-down in tension with Syria

SG BAN did meet with families of two Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon

Yes, the very same UN SG BAN who met last week in Vienna with former UN SG Kurt Waldheim, (who fell into disgrace when it was revealed that he had lied about his service to the NAZI war machine before and during the Second World War), met yesterday with the families of two Israeli soldiers whose capture by Hizbullah sparked last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

Neither meeting was announced, until a journalist posed a question.

This was the exchange in yesterday’s regular Noon Briefing at UNHQ/NY:
“Question: Two quick… can you confirm whether the Secretary-General’s meeting with the families of abducted Israeli soldiers – I didn’t see that on his schedule today. I was wondering why it wasn’t listed if it was indeed taking place. And the other thing is, does the UN have a comment or plan to do anything about the head of the UN’s intellectual property bureau who is accused in this UN audit of apparently using a false birthday to make him nine years older when he applied to join, then backdating, and using a younger age in a bid to gain retirement benefits? And will that audit be released?
Spokesperson: Yes. Your first question — yes, I can confirm that the Secretary-General is meeting with the families of the prisoners. Second question concerning the WIPO, we have talked about this before. You can have additional information in my office on this, but this is being followed very closely.”

The Associated Press’ energetic Edith Lederer reported later that:
UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met relatives of two Israeli soldiers seized by Hezbollah militants at the start of last year’s Lebanon war on Tuesday and promised he will keep working hard to seek their release. Ban told the wife and parents of Ehud Goldwasser and the brother of Eldad Regev that he has been working with a secret ‘facilitator’ [press reports suggest that this person is German] chosen by his predecessor, Kofi Annan, to help win the soldiers’ release, U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe said. ‘The U.N. strongly hopes for their release’, she said. Goldwasser’s wife and Regev’s brother spoke with reporters and appealed to Hezbollah to provide information about their condition after almost eight months without a single word. ‘For us, the family, this is the worst time in our lives’, Karnit Goldwasser said. ‘We know that they got injured, but we don’t know if a doctor got to see them’. Hezbollah has not released any details on the condition of the soldiers or provided any sign they are still alive since they seized the pair in a July 12 cross-border raid that sparked the 34-day Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. Regev’s brother, Benny, said Ban didn’t provide any new information about their condition but told the families he is committed to keep working on the problem ‘and try to solve it as soon as he can’. Goldwasser’s wife called on Hezbollah to allow the Red Cross to visit the soldiers. ‘I think if the other side will be able to allow the Red Cross to go visit them, this will be, I think, the start of the end of this conflict’, she said.”

A report by Israel News Network adds that “The families hope to convince Ki-moon and other officials to pressure the Lebanese government to return their loved ones. They are also working to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped by Hamas over half a year ago. At the very least, the families are hoping that the UN can help them to receive a sign of life from the hostages.”

Agence France Presse reported after the meeting: “Speaking to reporters after meeting with the secretary general at UN headquarters in New York, Karnit Goldwasser, the wife of Ehud Goldwasser, and Benny Reguev, brother of Eldad Reguev, recalled that UN Resolution 1701, which put an end to the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict in July and August, had called for the unconditional release of the hostages. Hezbollah’s capture of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Reguev on July 12 in Israeli territory sparked a devastating Israeli offensive in Lebanon, which ended on August 14 after the adoption of Resolution 1701. ‘Israel has fulfilled everything in the resolution and we asked him (Ban Ki-moon) to help Lebanon to fulfill their part in the resolution’, said Karnit Goldwasser. ‘We came on a humanitarian basis to ask for a sign of life, a sign that Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Reguev are OK, because it’s been almost eight months that they are in Lebanon and we didn’t have any kind of information’ regarding them. she said.
She said that Ban had promised to do all he could to obtain the full implementation of Resolution 1701. In January, the families of the captured soldiers wrote a letter to French President Jacques Chirac, who chaired an international aid conference on Lebanon, asking his help in seeking the soldiers’ release. Karnit Goldwasser also said the families had met with Pope Benedict XVI last week, and the Roman Catholic leader had promised to help.”

When, some five or six years ago, Hizbullah forces wearing UN Peacekeeping uniforms seized other Israeli soldiers, at the disputed Shebaa Farms area, UN officials were v-e-r-y slow to show the families any cooperation then. The families did not meet then-UN SG Kofi Annan, to recollection.

SG's letter to the Security Council on Lebanon

Here are some excerpts from the SG’s Report S/2006/933, Letter dated 1 December 2006 from the Secretary-General addressed to the President of the Security Council:

“I have the honour to submit a factual update to my report of 12 September 2006 on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)(S/2006/780), in particular on the operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and other relevant United Nations activities.

Israel continued to withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon, in coordination with UNIFIL. The IDF retain a presence only in the northern part of the village of Ghajar. Given the specific status of the village of Ghajar, which is divided by the Blue Line, UNIFIL is working with the LAF and the IDF to finalize the withdrawal of the IDF from the remaining area inside Lebanon and set up temporary security arrangements for the part of the village of Ghajar inside Lebanese territory.

In parallel with the withdrawal of Israeli forces, Lebanon deployed, in coordination with UNIFIL, four brigades of its armed forces throughout the south in the areas vacated by the IDF, including along the Blue Line. The deployment of the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] throughout the south for the first time in decades down to the Blue Line is a most notable achievement and a key stabilizing factor. The LAF, assisted by UNIFIL, have taken some specific steps to ensure that the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line is free of armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those of the Government of Lebanon and those of UNIFIL. Specifically, the LAF have established a considerable number of permanent positions and checkpoints and commenced patrols.

UNIFIL and the LAF have seen sporadic evidence of the presence of unauthorized armed personnel, assets and/or weapons. On one occasion, a UNIFIL demining team was challenged by two Hizbollah personnel in combat uniform carrying AK47 rifles. UNIFIL notified the LAF, who arrested three suspects the following day. Since early September, there have been 13 instances where UNIFIL came across unauthorized arms or related materiel in its area of operation. The two most noteworthy were the discovery of 17 Katyushas and several improvised explosive devices in Rachaya El-Foukhar and, in the general area of Bourhoz, of a weapons cache consisting of seven missiles, three rocket launchers and substantial amounts of ammunition. On all of these occasions, UNIFIL informed the LAF, who took prompt action either to confiscate or destroy the materials.

In the area between the Litani River and the Blue Line, there are, in addition, Palestinian armed elements largely confined to the refugee camps.

The Interim Maritime Task Force, under the lead of the Italian Navy, operated in support of the Lebanese Navy to secure Lebanese territorial waters until 15 October, when the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force became operational. The latter has questioned and confirmed the identity of some 950 ships, detecting one suspicious boat, which, when searched, was found to be smuggling cigarettes, and rendering assistance to one vessel in distress.

The Lebanese authorities reported that they had undertaken a variety of measures to secure their borders and entry points in order to prevent the illegal entry into Lebanon of arms and related materiel. However, the United Nations continues to receive reports of illegal arms smuggling across the Lebanese-Syrian border, but has not been able to verify such reports.

The second phase of the augmentation of UNIFIL is now under way, and involves the further deployment of four mechanized infantry battalions from France, Indonesia, Italy and Nepal and one infantry unit each from Malaysia and Qatar. The French composite battalion is assuming the role of quick reaction force. Finland, Ireland and Turkey have deployed engineer units and another is expected from Portugal. China will deploy one level-2 hospital, in addition to its existing engineering company. The Dominican Republic and the United Republic of Tanzania are expected to deploy military police companies.

As at 28 November, UNIFIL troop strength was 10,480 all ranks. The completion of the augmentation is expected in December, when UNIFIL force strength will reach approximately 11,500 ground troops, 1,750 naval personnel and 51 military observers from the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. With the deployment by the LAF of four brigades to south Lebanon, these numbers are deemed to be sufficient to execute the mandate.

The regular UNIFIL supply chain was recently re-established, thus enabling the Force to discontinue the air/sea bridge between Cyprus and Lebanon, which had been in place to maintain UNIFIL operability during the IDF naval and air blockade.

Two sector headquarters, West and East, have been established in Tibnin and Marjayoun, respectively… In addition, a quick reaction force will be based in Frun. UNIFIL air assets, provided and operated by Italy, are based at the Force headquarters. The UNIFIL Maritime Task Force is operating in Lebanese territorial waters.

A UNIFIL office for coordination and joint planning with the LAF, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant Lebanese authorities is being set up in Beirut.

Another UNIFIL office will be established in Tel Aviv for liaison and coordination with IDF headquarters, the Ministry of Defence and other relevant Israeli authorities. A UNIFIL liaison office, based in the IDF Northern Command, is fully operational. The Office of Political Affairs, comprising also civil affairs and public information, is being augmented within the Force headquarters and will staff the liaison offices and also deploy at the sector level.

The Strategic Military Cell for UNIFIL has been established at United Nations Headquarters and is operational.

I continue to make the unconditional release of the captured Israeli soldiers and the issue of the Lebanese prisoners detained in Israel a top priority. The facilitator appointed by me specifically to address these vital issues is currently engaged in an intensive effort with all parties to reach a resolution.

Since my last report, the full scope of contamination from unexploded cluster munitions has come to light…

Israel has yet to provide UNIFIL with the detailed firing data on its use of cluster munitions that I referred to in my previous report. The provision of this data, which would be in keeping with the spirit of Protocol V of the Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons Which May Be Deemed to Be Excessively Injurious or to Have Indiscriminate Effects, which came into force recently, would significantly assist operators on the ground to mitigate the threat to innocent civilians. I reiterate my expectation for the provision of these data.

I would note that Israel confirmed in a letter dated 14 November 2006 from its Charge d’Affaires that it had handed over to the United Nations all pre-2000 minefield records available for southern Lebanon and the area north of the Litani River.

However, I regret to inform you that four deminers working for the United Nations mine clearance programme in south Lebanon have been injured over the past few days, after they stepped on Israeli-manufactured anti-personnel mines near the village of Deir Mimas. As this area was considered safe prior to the conflict, there is the possibility that new anti-personnel landmines were laid during the recent conflict. While investigations on those incidents are still ongoing, I want to reiterate that the United Nations condemns the use of all anti-personnel mines and calls upon any party that laid such mines during the recent conflict to provide information as to where they have been laid to prevent similar tragic incidents occurring in the future.

Further to the Council’s request to me in paragraph 10 of its resolution 1701 (2006) to develop proposals for delineation of the international borders of Lebanon, especially in those areas where the border was disputed or uncertain,including by dealing with the Shabaa Farms area, I have appointed a senior cartographer to assume the lead on reviewing relevant material and developing an accurate territorial definition of the Shabaa Farms area. The cartographer is in the process of conducting such an exercise for the purpose of any further diplomatic activity that could be carried out by the United Nations as regards this issue.

I am heartened to note that both Lebanon and Israel have indicated their readiness to cooperate in this exercise.

A permanent solution of this issue remains contingent upon the delineation of the border between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic, in fulfilment of resolutions 1559 (2004), 1680 (2006) and 1701 (2006). At the same time, and in view of the repeated Syrian statements indicating that the Shabaa Farms area is Lebanese, I continue to take careful note of the alternative path suggested by the Government of Lebanon in its seven-point plan, namely, placing the Shabaa Farms under United Nations jurisdiction until permanent border delineation and Lebanese sovereignty over them is settled. The United Nations looks forward to reporting further on this matter in early 2007.

UN Security Council welcomes appointment of cartographer to define Shebaa Farms area

In a presidential statement — which has less weight than a resolution — the members of the UN Security Council welcomed the SG’s appointment of a cartographer (map maker) to “to review relevant material and develop an accurate territorial definition of the Shabaa Farms area”

This area, on the border between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, has been the cause of tensions and more since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000.

Following Israel’s withdrawal, the UN SG determined that the Shebaa Farms belongs to Syria (which no longer controls the area), despite the fact that both Syria and Lebanon said that Shebaa Farms was Lebanese.  Unwilling if not unable to backtrack, the SG’s appointment of a cartographer to study the issue means that no decision will be forthcoming soon.

Israel’s attack on Lebanon this past summer was provoked by Hezbollah’s capture of two Israeli soldiers in this area.

UN hopes Israel will withdraw from Lebanon

That means, of course, that Israel has not completed its withdrawal from Lebanon.  

Intensive discussions have been going on for weeks.  The UNIFIL (UN Interim Force in Lebanon – reinforced) Commander, Major-General Alain Pellegrini, met again today with “senior representatives” of the Israeli Defense Forces and of the Lebanese Army.  According to UN spokesmen: “They discussed the issue of the withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the northern part of Ghajar village, which is located inside Lebanese territory.  Pellegrini described the meeting as constructive and productive, saying that progress has been made and adding, “I hope that this will help pave the way for the full withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanese territory.

The Israeli media is reporting, however, that Ghajar residents are protesting a decision “to divide” the border village by turning part of it over to Lebanese authority.  The rest of the village will remain in the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights.

Israeli troops seized the Golan Heights in the June 1967 war.  In a fit of pique, Israel annexed the Golan Heights in 1980 — an action which the UN has deemed “null and void”. 

Nevertheless, administratively, the formerly Syrian residents of the Golan Heights now have Israeli citizenship.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported Sunday that “Some 1,000 residents of the village of Ghajar demonstrated Sunday over Israel’s decision to hand the northern half of the village over to Lebanon under the supervision of the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL). The protesters carried signs reading ‘the Berlin wall was torn down, and in Ghajar it is being built’ … Ghajar council head Ahmed Fatali said ‘No one will talk to us, we are not invited to take part in decisions regarding our future, the state is ignoring us’.”

Another Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, wrote that “About one thousand residents of Ghajar demonstrated Sunday night against Israel’s decision to hand over the northern part of their village, on the Lebanese side, to UNIFIL.  All 450 families in Ghajar, two-thirds of whom live in the northern part of the village, will retain their Israeli citizenship. A fence will be built around the northern part of town, and entry into it will be supervised by UNIFIL personnel, with a Lebanese army presence also on the scene, to keep Hizbullah out.”