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”…

UN Blue Line in Lebanon – not a border, but a "line of withdrawal"

Here is a statement from the UNIFIL spokesperson in Lebanon today:
Following the exchange of fire between the Lebanese army and the Israeli army across the Blue Line in El Adeisse yesterday, the UNIFIL investigators were on the ground and commenced investigations. The investigations are still ongoing and the findings will be intimated on conclusion of the investigations. UNIFIL established, however, that the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side. In this area the Lebanese government had some reservations concerning the Blue Line, as did the Israeli government at some other locations, at the time the Blue Line was identified in the year 2000 as the Line of Withdrawal of Israeli Forces from Lebanon. However, both Lebanon and Israel confirmed to the UN Secretary-General that, notwithstanding their reservations, identifying the Line was solely the responsibility of the United Nations and that they will respect the Line as identified. The UN position is that the Blue Line must be respected in its entirety by all parties. UNIFIL is in contact with both the parties to keep the situation under control and to ensure that there is no violation of the Blue Line in this area.

The IDF reports today that “In an interview on Wednesday morning (Aug. 4) with Israeli Army Radio, Hungarian diplomat Milos Strugar, who is serving as the political advisor to the UNIFIL commander, explained that the work carried out by the IDF along the border with Lebanon took place within Israeli territory and was coordinated ahead of time with the Lebanese army. ‘The Israelis pruned a tree south of the Blue Line. The pruning was done in the area of the Al-Adaisah village, north of Misgav-Am. A UNIFIL technical crew will go to that area today and measure the distance between the area where the incident took place and the Blue Line’ … Strugar emphasized that the IDF coordinated the pruning work with the Lebanese Army through UNIFIL. ‘I can confirm that the IDF had coordinated the pruning work along the border with the Lebanese Army through UNIFIL. The IDF informed UNIFIL that it would be pruning a tree on the northern side of the border fence, but south of the international border line’. Strugar added that the situation immediately intensified, as the Lebanese Army was also in the area. ‘Our people who were there tried to pacify the situation and to enable the IDF’s work. In the morning, the IDF informed us of their work and we passed that on to the Lebanese Army. Our investigation into this subject is not completed, and I am awaiting the final report which will be publicized today’, Strugar added”. The IDF account of Strugar’s remarks went on to say that “The Hungarian diplomat said that UNIFIL personnel ‘face many complaints regarding provocations and arousals by the Lebanese Army against IDF soldiers on a daily basis. There are many incidents and we operate in order to prevent them. This happens almost every day. There is a great deal of tension on the border’. That being said, he added that ‘what happened today cannot be compared to anything else. This is the most serious incident which took place since 2006’.” This IDF story is posted here.

Elsewhere, the IDF website continues to argue, incorrectly, that the Blue Line is a border, or a de facto border. It is not. Maybe, someday, it might become a border — or it might not. But for the time being, the Blue Line is nothing other than a demarcation line.

What it demarcates, according to the UNIFIL statement above (confirmed in the internally-contradictory IDF statement, here, which was written with a great deal of imprecision due in part to a certain linguistic laziness, and in part to impatience with any other views), is “the line towards which the IDF withdrew upon conclusion of Operation Litani in 1978, according to UN Security Council Resolution 425”.

This confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement also says, however, that “The Blue Line is an international border between Israel and Lebanon which was determined by the United Nations after the IDF withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000”.

But, the United Nations does not determine international borders.

This very same confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement states that “The Blue Line is a temporary line which has not been mentioned in any official agreements between Israel and Lebanon, and which is based on the international border which was determined by the countries in 1923. That being said, it is recognized as a de facto border between the two countries”.

If so, it is recognized in this way only by Israel.

This confused, contradictory and confusing IDF statement notes that: “From the First Lebanon War until 2000, IDF forces remained beyond this border line. However, upon the Israeli government’s decision for a one-sided withdrawal from southern Lebanon, the IDF forces returned to Israel and remained, with recognition by the UN of a complete withdrawal by Israel to her authorized and legitimate borders … During the Second Lebanon War in 2996, the IDF crossed the Blue Line and operated there for the duration of a month. However, upon completion of the war and the approval of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, IDF withdrew behind the internationally recognized border line. On Tuesday morning (Aug. 3), IDF forces operated within Israeli territory on the Israeli side of the Blue Line borders, where the IDF has routinely operates in an agreed-upon manner since the end of the Second Lebanon War”…

News reports Wednesday morning say that the IDF has returned to the exact same spot where the Lebanese Army and IDF fired upon each other yesterday, to do the exact same tree-pruning…

War? Again?

All through the day, SMS announcements have been summarizing the latest developments:  the Israeli Defense Forces have clashed with the Lebanese Army.

This may be the first clash between these two military forces, ever.

Three Lebanese soldiers and one Lebanese journalist have been killed.  One IDF officer has also been killed, and another is in serious but stable condition.

If this is not war, what is?

{Lebanon’s entire participation in the 1967 Middle East war was a statement made in a radio interview by the Lebanese Prime Minister at the time}.

Hizballah’s Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech that the organization had “refrained from taking action during the incident, for several reasons: ‘First, the army was overseeing the battle.  Second, we didn’t know where the situation could deteriorate to and third, we didn’t want to be blamed for escalating tensions over the international tribunal on the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.  We didn’t want anyone to think we were motivated by Iranian or Syrian interests to spark conflict in the region’.”

Nasrallah added: “I was personally in contact with the [Hezbollah] commanders in the area, and I asked them not to act before receiving a direct order. We announced that we would not initiate any activity as long as we did not receive authorization from the highest command of the Lebanese army. We contacted the army’s commander and explained that we were ready to take action if they ask us to”.

He said that, to date, “Israel has blatantly violated [the UN Security Council resolution] more than 7,000 times, and no one has lifted a finger, not even the {UN} Security Council”.  Nasrallah’s remarks were reported in Haaretz here.

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu made a statement saying: “I see the Lebanese government as directly responsible for this violent provocation against Israel. Israel responded, and will continue to respond in the future to any attempt to spoil the calm along the border and to harm the residents of Israel’s north and the soldiers protecting them”. This is reported here.

The Israeli media is calling this the most serious military clash since the “Second Lebanon war” in the summer of 2006.

Since then, there have been annual predictions of a repeat event.

This past spring, Lebanese anger rose with Israeli announcements of a new major undersea discovery of natural gas in what Israel calls the “Leviathon” field in the eastern Mediterrean quite a distance off the coast, in an area that Israeli media reports as Israeli territory, without any of the required Israeli public notifications that it is claiming an “Exclusive Economic Zone” (EEZ) under the UN Law of the Sea Convention that Israel has signed but not yet ratified. Lebanon claims that the gas fields are in Lebanese territory.

Cyprus also apparently has a claim on the same area — so far, Cyprus and Egypt are the only Eastern Mediterranean countries that have announced any negotiated delimitation to share their overlapping maritime space.

Israeli officials have indicated that contacts have been made with Cypriot authorities to begin the same process — but have also told Israeli journalists that they see no reason for contacts with the Lebanese authorities, because Lebanon refuses to recognize Israel.

UNIFIL — the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which has been there since the 1976 Israeli Army incursion into southern Lebanon, and has stayed even after the IDF unilateral withdrawal from south Lebanon in May 2000 — reportedly said this evening that it had determined that Israeli troops did not cross the land border with Lebanon today.

An Israeli report at mid-day indicated that Lebanese sources said the clashes began “following the uprooting of a tree in their territory”, after which Lebanese soldiers fired “warning fire” and the IDF “returned fire”…

The Jerusalem Post’s Defense Correspondent Yaakov Katz reported later that “The violence began around noon, when a force from [Lt.-Col. (res.) Dov] Harari’s reserve battalion entered an enclave along the border and near Kibbutz Misgav Am to conduct routine maintenance work. [n.b. – Hariri was then killed by a shot to the head, reportedly by a Lebanese Army sniper…] Enclaves refer to land that is sovereign Israeli territory but is on the other side of the border fence, which does not always run directly parallel to the internationally recognized border, [n.b., this is actually not yet a recognized border, it is just a demarcation that was carried out by the UN] known as the Blue Line. The soldiers had coordinated their movement beyond the fence with UNIFIL and were working to cut down a tree when shots were fired in their direction … The IDF responded with heavy tank fire at an Lebanese position just over the border, killing three soldiers and a Lebanese journalist. Lebanese soldiers then fired rocket-propelled grenades at an Israeli tank south of the border. IDF artillery began pounding the area, and a number of IAF attack helicopters were dispatched to bomb a Lebanese Armed Forces command center in the southern Lebanese town of Taiba. The center was heavily damaged, as were a number of LAF armored personnel carriers parked nearby”. This account is published here.

The U.S. is “extremely concerned”, the State Department spokesman told journalists Tuesday, and has called on both countries to exercise “maximum restraint”…

Haaretz is reporting this evening that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has authorized a formal complaint to the UN Security Council. Israel has complained to the UN about a number of things in the past — but Israel has, so far, never requested a formal meeting of the UN Security Council concerning its complaints.

On Monday, there were rocket attacks of mysterious origin {Israeli officials have claimed that they came from the Egyptian Sinai peninsula] on the neighboring cities of Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Jordan which killed one Jordanian man and wounded several other persons.

Late last week, there were rocket attacks from Gaza that affected southern Israeli areas — causing cases of hysteria that required hospital treatment, but no other injuries. Israel retaliated with air attacks on Gaza over the weekend.

Israel’s seven-member “Security Cabinet” has been convened to meet on Wednesday morning.

Remains of Alec Collett found in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley

This is an ugly and traumatic story.

Alec Collett, a former colleague accredited as a journalist at UNHQ/NY in the early to mid-1980s, was one of those internationals kidnapped during the long Lebanese civil war.  Alec was taken from a car near Beirut airport in March  1985, while on a temporary assignment for UNRWA in Lebanon.  The car’s driver was also seized, but later released

After the U.S. attack on Libya in the spring of 1986, there were reports that those holding Alec had executed him in retaliation. A video was released, showing his body hanging from the limb of a leafy tree.

But, for unclear reasons, the UN did not want to acknowledge Alec’s execution. The UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, expressed anger but offered no explanation when asked directly by this journalist — at the time, the President of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) why the UN was not accepting the reports of Alec’s death.  UNCA issued a statement condemning the reported execution, and asking for a prompt return of the body, to help ease the anguish of Alec’s family.

Though there was no apparent reason to disbelieve the claims about the execution, nothing was entirely sure about Alec’s fate until this week, when British DNA tests reportedly conducted in London confirmed that a body unearthed recently in the Bekaa Valley by a British forensics team was, indeed, that of Alec Collett.

Photo from Daily Mail - Officials inspect the place where the remains of Alec Collett were found

[Months before the execution, as the BBC reported in a profile published on their website, “the United Nations Correspondents’ Association … made him [Alec Collett] their honorary president, a title he has retained ever since”… The BBC report, posted here, is wrong in a couple of respects, including these: (1) the decision to name Alec as “honorary president” of UNCA was taken at the end of 1985, and not in 1986; UNCA is not, as the BBC wrote, an “organisation for journalists based around the world” — it is an organization for journalists accredited to UNHQ in New York. And, this decision, taken at the urging of some colleagues, was not popular with all of the journalists. Some, who had not hesitated to use his captivity for their own political purposes in the UNCA elections held at the end of 1985, were nevertheless opposed to making Alec Collett “honorary president” on the grounds that (as they argued) he had been on a temporary assignment to UNRWA, and not working strictly as a journalist, at the time he was kidnapped …]

The Times of London reported on 19 November that “Seven British police officers and two forensic archaeologists are excavating near the village of Aitta al-Fuqar in the Bekaa Valley. It is the site of a base belonging to Fatah — the Revolutionary Council. The radical and violent Palestinian group was led by Sabri al-Banna, better known as Abu Nidal.  The team found two bodies, one of them an unidentified man who was first found during an earlier attempt to find Mr Collett 11 years ago. It was reinterred by Lebanese authorities. The second body is undergoing DNA tests to discover if it is Mr Collett.  Lebanese troops have sealed off the site to reporters and onlookers”.  This report can be found here

A second report by the Times of London, published on 24 November, said that “The UN confirmed yesterday that remains unearthed by British investigators in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley are those of Alec Collett, a British journalist kidnapped in 1985 and killed a year later. A spokesman said that Ban Ki Moon, the UN Secretary-General, while saddened by the news, ‘hopes the actions taken to find his remains can provide a measure of comfort to his loved ones’. The remains were identified with the help of DNA tests conducted in London by the Metropolitan Police. Collett, who was 64 when he was abducted, was on assignment with the UN reporting on Palestinian refugees in April 1985. He was kidnapped by Fatah Revolutionary Council, a radical Palestinian group headed by Abu Nidal. Collett is survived by his wife, Elaine, who also worked for the UN and lives in New York. Last week’s search was the fourth attempt in 11 years to recover his remains. The hunt had been narrowed to an isolated military base, once run by Abu Nidal militants, between the village of Aitta al-Fukhar and the Syrian border. The camp consists of a handful of derelict single-storey concrete buildings scattered on the slopes of a steep rocky valley. The walls of one abandoned building were daubed with sketches of the huge wooden water wheels in the Syrian city of Hama, and of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and his father Hafez al-Assad. The camp housed a small detachment of Syrian troops until 2005. One of the buildings was half-buried beneath bulldozed earth and rock for protection against attack, and it was here that Mr Collett spent his last weeks in captivity. The cell block consisted of three small rooms and a simple latrine. The doors and any furniture and fittings inside the cramped building long ago disappeared and today it appears to be a shelter for goats that scramble over the surrounding slopes. Mr Collett’ fate was sealed after US aircraft bombed Tripoli, in Libya on April 15, 1986. In retaliation, eight days later, the Libyan-backed militants took Mr Collett from his bleak cell and hanged him, then shot him in the back of the head — according to a Palestinian eyewitness whose testimony in 2005 provided additional confirmation that the British journalist had been buried on the site. A team from the Metropolitan police counterterrorist department and two forensic archaeologists began excavating a section of the camp on November 14. A digger scraped away the surface layer of stony soil, then investigators worked the ground by hand. Small red flags marked the spot of each dig. The operation was conducted amid tight security, with Lebanese troops keeping reporters and onlookers away, but The Times was able to gain access to the site. ‘We looked for signs of disturbance in the soil and focussed on those areas’, said one of the investigators. Two bodies were discovered. One of them was that of a suspected Palestinian militant whose remains were first uncovered during an earlier search for Mr Collett’s body in 1998, and subsequently re-interred by Lebanese authorities. The second body was that of Mr Collett, the bullet hole in the skull convincing the investigators that they had found their man pending the final result of the DNA tests”. This Times of London report is posted here

While the Times of London report, above, said that “Last week’s search was the fourth attempt in 11 years to recover his remains”, a BBC report here said that the UN “tried three times between 1995 and 2000 to find his body and there have been numerous false alarms”.

Two UN officials were trying to get Alec Collett’s release much earlier — in the months immediately after his abduction, and after the reports of the execution: Perez de Cuellar’s aide Gianni Picco, who got involved in some of the hostage negotiations as part of larger regional efforts, and the Lebanese-Palestinian information official, Samir Sanbar. They operated, apparently, on different tracks. I was also told, at the time, that the high-ranking British UN official Brian Urquhart, was also involved on another separate track. And, UNCA made several quiet attempts, at the time, to contact various personalities in Lebanon to seek their help, without result…

My friend and mentor Promeneur, who did not speak to me for more than a year because of the UNCA election and its results, wrote me this week from London and said: “They did the DNA and yes it’s Alec. Any suggestion how I might contact Elaine? She with the UN still I wonder? Gosh their son will be in his mid-30s … and Alec he would now be 87 I think I got that right, double-gosh … Turns out it was … a retaliatory gesture after Reagan bombed Tripoli (remember how it was timed to run live on the 10 o’clock news) … otherwise they figure he was about to be released. All those years I’d imagined it must have been a Lebanese group, reasoning that Alec’s strong PLO sympathies must have tripped him up. Then I reasoned that he wouldn’t have lasted long without his medication – he had diabetes and other stuff, but no seems they did hang him. A guy doing life in the US has given an eye-witness account. The assignment had been a gift from UNRWA who knew how broke he was – it was going to clear his credit card debts etc.”…

Four Katuysha or Grad missiles reported fired from Lebanon onto northern Israel

…and Israel’s Defense Forces have already fired back, shooting artillery at what is believed to be the source of the Katuysha fire.

UPDATE: The IDF has now issued a statement saying: “We view the Lebanese government and military as responsible to prevent such attacks”.

The IDF statement said that “a number of rockets were launched into northern Israel this morning”, without saying how many. Initial reports indicated four, but the Israeli media is saying three.

The IDF statement says that “There were no casualties or damage as a result of the attack”.

And it says that “The IDF responded to the source of fire”. Media reports quote Lebanese security officials as saying that the IDF lobbed 8 artillery shells at the “source” of the attack — media reports also indicated this was in Hasbaya.

New turn in the war on Gaza? UPDATED

At around 0800 hours in Jerusalem (and Gaza and Lebanon), reports came in of three Katuysha missile attacks on the Israeli coastal city of Nahariyya.

Three hours later, there were reports of more Katuyshas falling on the north of Israel. UPDATE: A subsequent report doubt was cast on these reports, which could have been caused by sonic booms, according to this subsequent report … FURTHER UPDATE: This subsequent report is now being called a “false alarm” …

Nahariyya is north of Tel Aviv, and also north of Haifa [NOT south of Haifa, as I wrongly wrote earlier].

Nahariyya is closer to Lebanon than to Gaza…

UPDATE: A new report just in says that Lebanese media are reporting that Israel has fired back at the area in Lebanon where these Katyushas were fired from …

The Associated Press reported that “The Israeli military confirmed it carried out “pinpoint fire” [artillery] in response [to the first volley of Katyushas] without elaborating. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket barrage from Lebanon. Israeli defense commentators said they believed Hezbollah was behind the salvo, but expected the incident to be a one-time show of solidarity with the Palestinians, not a declaration of war”. This AP report can be found here .

A subsequent AP report filed from Beirut said that “A Lebanese government official says his country is trying to determine who launched rockets from southern Lebanon into Israel. The official also says Lebanon is committed to a U.N.-brokered truce that ended the brutal 2006 war between the militant group Hezbollah and Israel. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations”. This AP report can be found here

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, according to another report in the JPost, Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah “vowed to crush any offensive Israel might launch against Hizbullah. He also chastised Arab leaders for trying to mediate a truce between Hamas and Israel rather than siding with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. Israel has warned Hizbullah against igniting a second front, saying it would retaliate massively”. This article can be read in full here .

There were earlier reports of Qassam rockets hitting Israeli southern coastal towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

This may be a repeat of what happened in June-July 2006, when Hizballah opened a second front to deflect IDF attacks on Gaza after Palestinian fighters from Gaza captured IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit in a “cross-border” raid near Kerem Shalom (where the borders of Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the Egyptian Sinai intersect).

Last night, in an ominous turn, the IDF dropped leaflets on homes in the Palestinian area of Rafah, telling them to leave their homes by 0800 [though of course not telling them where it might be safe for them to go.]

But, there were reports that 31 homes in Rafah were destroyed overnight, by two hours before the 0800 deadline.

Al-Jazeera is now reporting heavy bombing in Rafah.

High ranking reserve IDF officers have spoken openly of their wish — thwarted during Israel’s unilateral “Disengagement” from Gaza in 2005 — to create a one-mile “sterile” zone on BOTH sides of the border at Rafah (the Palestinian AND Egyptian sides)…

CORRECTION: Apparently these IDF officers — and one of the most prominent among them is Yom-Tov Samia — want a three-kilometer wide “sterile zone” on the Gazan side of the border. But he also wants a sterile zone on the Egyptian side.

The Jerusalem Post reported today that: “First reports on Wednesday night suggested that the IDF was preempting the diplomats in starting to create a new reality at the Gaza-Egypt border. Tellingly, the IDF’s former Gaza commander, Maj.-Gen. (res.) Yom-Tov Samia, has been serving in recent days as an adviser to the current OC Southern Command, Maj-Gen. Yoav Galant. A year ago, Samia penned an article for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs entitled “Weapons Smuggling from Egypt to Gaza: What Can Egypt and Israel Do?” His prescription: “The Philadelphi Corridor between Egypt and Gaza should be the first priority for Israel. We should not expect the Egyptians to do the job for us, so this means we should clear the three kilometers from our side. As I have been saying for years, Israel should reoccupy Philadelhpi and should stay there until we have had a peaceful relationship with the Palestinians for 25 years.” This JPost article can be read in full here .

Haaretz reported on Thursday that Amos Gilad of Israel’s Defense Ministry will participate in talks in Cairo today about a cease-fire, and that “A political source in Jerusalem said that the negotiations would focus on an international proposal for a security agreement over the contentious Philadelphi Route, on the Egypt-Gaza border, where Hamas militants have been digging tunnels for smuggling arms and militants … Egypt said on Tuesday it was proposing an immediate ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza Strip, to be followed by talks on long-term arrangements including an end to the blockade of Gaza … The Netherlands and Denmark, meanwhile, have proposed that the EU contribute personnel for “watertight control and monitoring of the Egyptian-Gaza border’. But [the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier] Solana said hunting for tunnels would ‘be done probably with technology, not with people’. Israeli officials say advanced sonar can detect some tunnels but they were skeptical technology alone would prevent Palestinians from rebuilding secret passages under the sandy, 14 km-long Philadelphi corridor”. This report can be read in full here .

And, AP has published an analytical article about reasons why a US-funded program fails to stop tunnel smuggling from the Sinai into Gaza. It reported that “the United States last year allocated [nb – this should rather read “paid” — see below] $23 million to help train Egyptian officials to stop the smuggling into Gaza through tunnels at a border plagued by crisis and corruption … Previous attempts to close the tunnels have largely failed, partly because of the mutual mistrust between Israel and Egypt and partly because of Egypt’s inability to rein in corruption and alleviate poverty in the Sinai. The region near Gaza is home to tens of thousands of mostly disaffected Bedouin. Many of these nomads earn their living through smuggling. Some critics say Egypt has never undertaken a truly robust effort because it hopes to use the issue to gain something it wants in turn: the right to deploy troops at the Sinai border, which was denied under the 1979 Camp David Accords. Egyptian officials also have been leery of making the border with Gaza truly normal and functioning, fearing an influx of Palestinian militancy into Egypt … U.S. officials, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has helped train Egyptian border guards, and the Defense Department, which implements U.S. foreign military assistance programs, refused to give details of how and when the $23 million was spent. The U.S. Embassy in Cairo confirmed that the U.S. is working with Egypt and said the Corps of Engineers was sharing its expertise. The embassy would provide no further details, describing the program as led by Egypt. The Ministry of Defense declined to comment immediately on the issue … An Egyptian security official at the border would say only that five U.S. Army engineers arrived at the frontier in the fall — about nine months after the money was allocated by the U.S. — and stayed for a month to train Egyptian guards to use high-tech radar that can detect tunnels by locating cavities underground. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, insisted the effort boosted Egypt’s ability to detect more tunnels in recent months, but would not elaborate. Israeli military and Shin Bet security officers, who spoke on condition of anonymity in accordance with defense establishment rules, say Egypt began deploying the U.S. equipment — including a form of ground-penetrating radar — only about three months ago … Congress moved in late 2007 to put conditions on the $2 billion in aid, most of it military assistance, that Washington gives annually to Egypt — the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel.
Congress voted to withhold $100 million until Egypt, among other things, stopped the flow of weapons through the tunnels. Egypt, which dislikes conditions being put on the U.S. aid, suspected that Israel was behind the lobbying campaign on Capitol Hill and was hostile to the idea at first, according to a top local U.S. diplomat who spoke about the program at the time. The diplomat spoke only on condition of anonymity because the matter involved sensitive relations between Egypt and Israel. Under congressional pressure, Egypt agreed in January 2008 to spend $23 million of the U.S. military aid solely on training and technical equipment to detect the tunnels”.

The AP story also reported that “Tunnel smuggling between Egypt and Gaza dates back to the 1980s, when Israel returned to the Sinai Desert to Egypt. But it spiraled out of control after Hamas seized power, provoking Israel and Egypt to cut the Gaza Strip off from the outside world. Yet during the time period that Egypt promised to step up its tunnel detection last year, Hamas was able to obtain a growing number of more sophisticated, longer-range weapons, which U.S. and Israeli officials have said they believe are made of parts originating in Syria or Iran … One smuggler at the frontier town of Rafah joked about the U.S. effort. ‘They spent millions and they only got a few tunnels’, said the smuggler, who would not give his name for fear of arrest by Egyptian authorities. The father of seven, who insisted he does not smuggle weapons, said smuggling is a way of life for Rafah residents, many of whom are unemployed or make less than $100 a month at their government jobs. Smuggling a box of cigarettes can bring $70, a box of bullets $200, he said. Even if caught, a smuggler can easily pay off border guards, many of whom earn even less, he said. Rebuilding the tunnels if they are destroyed also is easy, he said. ‘All of Rafah relies on the tunneling business. For God sake, look at all the modern cars in this town, which is full of unemployed people’, he said”. This AP report can be read in full here.

And, the U.S. State Department has updated a travel alert for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza; “[T]he Israel Defense Force (IDF) is engaged in a military operation against terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. This operation began on December 27, 2008, with aerial and naval bombardment, and expanded on January 3, 2009, to include ground operations. Since the December 19, 2008, expiration of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, terrorist organizations have launched ongoing rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza into southern Israel. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens traveling to and within Israel and the West Bank to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. No official U.S. Government travel is permitted within the Gaza Strip. Due to the ongoing conflict and limited ability of the U.S. Government to assist American citizens in the Gaza Strip, the Department of State urges American citizens, including journalists and aid workers, to avoid all travel to the Gaza Strip. This Travel Alert expires on January 31, 2009 … [T]he Government of Israel’s Home Front Command has ordered residents of all communities within 40 kilometers of the Gaza Strip, including Beersheva, Yavne, and Gadera, to take precautions against the possibility of rocket strikes … Specific guidance in English is available at the Home Front Command website: here .

A New Year's Day message from Gaza

This SMS from Gaza arrived on a friend’s mobile in Ramallah this morning:

“Look Outside…
F-16s SMILING For you
ABATSHE [Apache = U.S.-made Helicopters] Dancing for you
ZANANA [Israeli pilotless drones] Singing for you
Because I requested them All to wish you
HAPPY NEW YEAR”

The recipient in Ramallah called his friend, the sender, in Gaza, and demanded, laughing: “What more could you ask for?”…

This is Palestinian humor, he said.

Meanwhile, on the sixth day of Israel’s unprecedented attack on Palestinians today, it has just been reported that Hamas has sent text messages to Israeli cell phones, reading: “Rockets on all cities, shelters will not protect you, Qassam rocket, Hamas”.

Indeed, rockets and missiles fired from Gaza have hit a 60-kilometer radius in Israel this morning, from Ashdod (23 miles up the Mediterranean coast from Gaza) to Beersheeva (28 miles east into Israel’s Negev desert). Within minutes of what was reported as a Grad [Katuysha] missile attack on a building in Ashdod, it was then reported that the IDF had just attacked and destroyed the “terror cell responsible for firing Grad”.

And, on the first day of the new year, Israeli air attacks continue on targets in Gaza — including the Palestinian Legislative Council headquarters in Gaza. An IDF spokesperson’s statement this morning reported that the building houses “Hamas’ Ministry of Justice and Legislative Assembly, both situated in the Tel El-Hawwa government complex. Hamas Government sites serve as a critical component of the terrorist groups’ infrastructure in Gaza.”

The IDF also reported these other targets were hit: “Over five smuggling tunnels along the ‘Philadelphi Route’ [along the Gaza-Egypt border] used by Hamas to smuggle arms and terrorists in and out of Gaza; a weaponry manufacturing and storage facility in central Gaza, under which a tunnel had been dug; a command center of Hamas’ police force in Rafah, as a well as a Hamas coastal authority outpost on the shore adjacent to Gaza City. In addition, the Israel Navy targeted a number of Hamas outposts and rocket launching grounds”.

An IDF update a short while later reported that a number of other targets were also struck today (and it is now only 2p.m. in Jerusalem and Gaza):
“Among them, was the house of Muhamad Fuad Barhud (a senior terror operative in the Resistance Committees) in Jabaliya. Barhud is responsible for the wide array of Grad and Qassam rockets, as well as mortar shells, that are in the northern Gaza Strip, and is funded and supported by Hamas. Among other locations, his house was used as a storage site for various weapons including anti tank missiles, rockets, and explosive devices used by both, the Resistance Committees and Hamas.
The house of another terror operative, Hasin Drairy, was also attacked in the Sabra (northern Gaza Strip). The house was used as a storage site for rockets and mortar shells. The house was also used as a lathe for rocket manufacturing. In addition, a weapon storage facility was attacked in the house of Taufik Abu Ras. Abu Ras is a Hamas terror operative from A-Nusseirat. His house also served as a manufacturing laboratory and a storage site for a wide array of weaponry, including rockets and explosive devices. More than twenty targets were attacked since this morning including weapons storage facilities, rocket launching sites, Hamas terror operatives, and a tunnel used by Hamas. The IDF operation is continuing and will go on for as long as necessary”.

Earlier this week, Gazans reported receiving text messages in Arab from Israel warning them that their homes will be attacked if they are near Hamas targets, or if they keep weapons in their homes.

A demonstration in solidarity with Gaza was called for noon in Ramallah’s central Manara Square. New Year’s eve parties were largely cancelled in Ramallah because of the attacks in Gaza.

Last night, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made an address in which he called off negotiations with Israel — something the chief Palestinian negotiator Ahmad Qurei’a did earlier in the week — Abbas just waited until almost the last possible minute of the last day of 2008 — the deadline, sort-of, set by the Annapolis Conference on 27 November 2007 for a process of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that was supposed to lead to the establishment of a Palestinian State in 2008 (or, as later amended, by the end final day of the Bush Administration on 20 January 2009…) Abbas also swore to do his best to protect the Pa

Comparisons have been made between the present Israeli offensive in Gaza and the 2006 war Israel waged against Hizballah in Lebanon, that was vastly destructive of a Shi’a quarter in south Beirut, and of civilian infrastructure throughout the southern part of the country.

But the 2006 war was against a Lebanese Shi’a organization — though one that had just acted to support Gazan fighters who had a few days earlier seized IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit in a cross-border raid near Kerem Shalom, Israel’s preferred border crossing, near the Palestinian international airport it destroyed not once but twice.

A better comparison might be made, for those who still remember such things, with Israel’s full-force 1982 invasion of Lebanon, led by Ariel Sharon, who had an unclear mandate from the Israeli government and appeared to be acting mainly on his own instincts. After brushing the UN force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, aside with not much more than a wave of the hand, Sharon’s men headed straight for Beirut, which was then the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) “capital within a capital” and the stronghold for Yasser Arafat.

The IDF encircled and strangled East Beirut for weeks — though the situation is no comparison to the Israeli-military-administered blockade of Gaza for the past year. And they bombarded every day, introducing weapons that imploded multi-story apartment buildings in on themselves, killing all occupants, in what they indicated were attempts to assassinate Arafat. Then they accused Arafat and the PLO of hiding behind the skirts of civilians …

For at least two years prior to the 1982 full-force invasion, the IDF conducted regular air raids and bombing attacks on Lebanon, particularly on Beirut.

I was there during one such period in the spring of 1980. During a three-week period, it was impossible to move because of the frightening daily air attacks on Beirut. The airport was closed, and there was no exit. I was invited to dinner a family’s apartment in what I recall was an 8-story (though it was possibly 10 stories) building in the central Palestinian area, around Arafat’s Beirut offices. The wife had prepared stuffed grape leaves. We were all sitting around the table, when a severe bombing attack began. “Don’t you move to the bomb shelter in the basement during these attacks”, I asked cautiously. The wife and husband looked at each other, and at their two young kids. Then, she replied: “The basement is full of ammunition. If this building is hit, we all go straight to God”. And we continued the meal.

It was one of the most delicious meals ever.

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>.

S0 — it wasn't Syria

In advance of the Arab League Summit Meeting — which is being attended by very few heads of state or government — that opened Saturday in Damascus, the UN rushed through several steps in its preparation for the formation of the tribunal to judge those responsible for the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

Lebanon boycotted the Damascus summit entirely. Tensions around Syria’s role and possible responsibility in the Hariri killing have greatly complicated the atmosphere.

The UN said Friday that “Evidence shows that a criminal network was responsible for the massive car bombing that killed the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in Beirut in February 2005, the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) says in a new report to the Security Council”. The UN Spokesperson, Michele Montas, said that UNSG BAN had just submitted the latest report of the IIIC, which is headed by Daniel Bellemare, to the 15 UN Security Council members. The UN News Centre [The UN uses British English spelling] story is posted here .

Bellemare, a Canadian who replaced Serge Brammertz as head of the investigation commission, will also be the chief prosecutor of the Hariri Tribunal once it begins to function.

The UN spokesperson Michele Montas told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Friday that “The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Security Council, said that the Commission reports that it has evidence that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out Hariri’s assassination and that this criminal network, or parts of it, are linked to some of the other cases within the Commission’s mandate”. The transcript of the UN’s regular noon briefing for journalists is posted here .

As far as I can tell, this latest IIIC report has not been made public. However, the Associated Press seems to have obtained a copy, and has reported that “In his first report to the UN Security Council, Daniel Bellemare said the first priority of the investigating commission he heads is to gather more evidence about the ‘Hariri Network’, its scope, the identity of all its participants, their role in other attacks and links with people outside the network. Bellemare said the commission would not disclose any names to preserve confidentiality. ‘Names of individuals will only appear in future indictments filed by the prosecutor, “when there is sufficient evidence to do so’, he said. Four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for almost two years for alleged involvement in the murder. Syria denies any involvement in Hariri’s assassination, but the furor over the attack forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after a 29-year presence. Bellemare said Syria’s cooperation with the commission ‘continues to be generally satisfactory’. The former Canadian prosecutor said evidence indicates the network existed before his assassination, that it conducted surveillance of the former premier, and that at least part of the network continued to operate after he was killed along with 22 others in a bombing in Beirut on February 14, 2005. ‘The commission can now confirm, on the basis of available evidence, that a network of individuals acted in concert to carry out the assassination of Rafik Hariri and that this criminal network – the “Hariri Network” – or parts thereof are linked to some of the other cases within the commission’s mandate’, Bellemare said. The commission has been providing technical assistance to Lebanese authorities in 20 other ‘terrorist attacks’ that have killed 61 people and injured at least 494 others, he said. Eleven attacks have targeted politicians, journalists and security officials and nine involve bombings in public places. In coming months, Bellemare said, the commission will also focus on identifying links between the Hariri network and the other attacks it is assisting in investigating, and ‘where these links are found to exist – the nature and scope of these links’ … ‘The commission faces additional challenges including the magnitude of the attacks, their continuing nature, and the fact that the investigations are conducted in an environment dominated by ongoing security concerns’, he said. Bellemare stressed the difficulties of operating in the ‘deteriorating security situation’ in the last four months when Lebanon has been paralyzed by the failure to elect a new president. He also noted that six new cases had been given to the commission since November 2006 without any additional resources to meet the increased workload. ‘The number of investigators and analysts continues to be far lower than in comparable investigations’, he said”. This AP report was published in the Jerusalem Post here .

The day before the Bellemare report was presented to the Security Council, the Council welcomed (on 27 March) the latest report of the UN SG (S/2008/173 – 12 March 2008) on setting up the international tribunal to identify and bring to justice those responsible for the massive 14 February 2005 car bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in downtown Beirut.

The UN legal counsel, Nicholas Michel (of Switzerland) told journalists in a separate briefing that the tribunal had been requested by the President of Lebanon.

In the briefing, Michel said that “Member States had provided $60.3 million, including $34.4 million in funds already sent and $25.9 million in pledges, to cover the costs of setting up the Tribunal in The Hague and its first year of operation, he said, adding: ‘The Tribunal should not be expected to start operating with all of its organs overnight. The Secretary-General’s report, in paragraph 38, clearly indicates that the Tribunal will start functioning in phases’. The time frame would depend on the availability of funds, the outcome of consultations with the Lebanese Government and progress in the Commission’s work … In February, the Secretary-General and the Lebanese Government had formally created a Tribunal Management Committee, he continued, listing its members as Lebanon, France, Germany, Netherlands, United Kingdom and the United States. They had each contributed $1 million or more and the Netherlands was providing rent-free space to house the Tribunal in The Hague during its first three years of operation. He declined to disclose the other contributors, saying it was up to the Management Committee to decide if and when to release that information. Furthermore, the judges’ names would not be made public until their first meeting, during which they would draft the rules of procedure and evidence and elect the presidents of the Tribunal’s Trial and Appeals Chambers. The Appeals Chamber President would also serve as President of the Tribunal. During the ensuing question-and-answer period, the Legal Counsel said the Tribunal only had jurisdiction over the Hariri case at present, but it had the power to extend its jurisdiction to cases that occurred between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005. The United Nations and the Lebanese Government could also agree, with the Council’s approval, to extend the Commission’s jurisdiction to more recent cases deemed to be connected to the Hariri assassination. The Tribunal’s three-year mandate would be extended if its judicial process was not completed in that time frame, he added”. This UN press release summarizing Michel’s briefing to journalists is posted here.

The AP reported, after the Michel briefing, that “Many Lebanese have blamed neighboring Syria for the assassination, and four pro-Syrian Lebanese generals have been under arrest for almost two years for alleged involvement. Syria denies any involvement, but the furor over the attack forced Syrian troops to withdraw from Lebanon after a 29-year presence …The United States has been one of the biggest contributors, pledging $14 million”. This AP report is posted here .

The 12 March report of the UN SG, which was welcomed by the UN SC on 27 March, contained this information:

“…negotiations between the United Nations and the authorities of the Netherlands had been successfully concluded. The agreement provides, inter alia, that the host State has no obligation to let persons convicted by the Special Tribunal serve their sentence of imprisonment in a prison facility on its territory. It also stipulates that the Registrar shall take all necessary measures to arrange the immediate relocation to third States of witnesses who for security reasons cannot return to their home countries after testifying before the Tribunal …

“…on 10 July 2007, the Government of Lebanon had forwarded to me, in a sealed envelope, a list of 12 candidates proposed for judicial appointments by the Lebanese Supreme Council of the Judiciary, as set forth in article 2, paragraph 5 (a), of the annex to resolution 1757 (2007). I also informed you that, with a view to my appointing Lebanese and international judges at the same time, on 1 August 2007 the Legal Counsel sent a letter to all Member States, on my behalf, inviting them to consider submitting
candidates for appointment as judges of the Tribunal no later than 24 September 2007. The names of 37 international candidates were submitted … On 4 December 2007, having interviewed the short-listed candidates, the selection panel made its recommendations to me, which I subsequently accepted. Mindful of security considerations, I will proceed with the formal appointments of the judges and announce their names at an appropriate time in the future …

“…On 8 November 2007, the selection panel recommended to me that Daniel Bellemare (Canada) be appointed as the Prosecutor. I subsequently accepted the recommendation. On 14 November 2007, I appointed Mr. Bellemare as the Prosecutor of the
Special Tribunal pursuant to my authority under article 3 of the annex. He will, however, commence his official duties as the Prosecutor at a later date in keeping with the provisions of the annex. On the same day, after the Security Council took note of my intention, I also appointed Mr. Bellemare to succeed Serge Brammertz as Commissioner of the Investigation Commission. I am of the view that, as called for in article 17, paragraph (a), of the annex, this approach will ensure a coordinated transition from the activities of the Investigation Commission to those of the Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal …

“…With respect to the Deputy Prosecutor, as I noted in paragraph 13 of my last report, the Government of Lebanon forwarded to me, in a sealed envelope, a list of candidates for the position. In December 2007, pursuant to consultations held between the Government of Lebanon, the Prosecutor-designate of the Special Tribunal and myself, a Deputy Prosecutor was identified. The appointment of the Deputy Prosecutor falls within the authority of the Government of Lebanon …

“… On the basis of the recommendation of the selection panel that I established, on 10 March 2008, I appointed Mr. Robin Vincent as Registrar of the Special Tribunal for a period of three years to commence at a later date, to be determined in the light of the progress achieved in establishing the Tribunal…

“…As the premises of the Tribunal have now been identified, estimated costs in those areas may be integrated into overall financial requirements. The annual rental cost for the building will amount to approximately $5 million and will be paid for the first years by the host State, whose generosity in this regard I applaud. Operating costs for the building are estimated at $1 million
per year. Refurbishment packages are currently under review. The packages provide for basic or advanced adaptations of the building in respect of security, holding cells, courtroom and offices”
… S/2008/173 – 12 March 2008

Hariri Tribunal mandate

After the apparent assassination of Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus this week, a journalist (Benny Avni of the NY Sun, as it happens) asked if the UN will investigate this death, too. Here is the exchange, from 14 February daily noon briefing at UNHQ/NY — after which an clarification is later issued:

“Question: As to follow up on the question on the others in the Hariri case, which is a Security Council resolution, of course, that other related assassinations should be investigated by the UN. Does the UN plan to investigate the assassination of Mugniyah?

“Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond the statement today, Benny. The Security Council, as you say, the mandate stands. I have nothing further on this today.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that resolution 1757 (2007) states that the mandate of the Special Tribunal is to prosecute persons responsible for the attack of 14 February 2005 resulting in the death of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and in the death or injury of other persons. According to article 1 of that resolution, if the Tribunal finds that other attacks that occurred in Lebanon [emphasis added here] between 1 October 2004 and 12 December 2005, or any later date decided by the parties (Lebanese Government and the UN) with the consent of the Security Council [emphasis added here too], are connected in accordance with the principles of criminal justice and are of a nature and gravity similar to the attack of 14 February 2005, it shall also have jurisdiction over persons responsible for such attacks. This connection includes but is not limited to a combination of the following elements: criminal intent (motive), the purpose behind the attacks, the nature of the victims targeted, the pattern of the attacks (modus operandi), and the perpetrators.]” This briefing transcript is available here.