AFP: UN report mentions unmarked minefield, denial of access to UN observer teams, in Golan

AFP has written a story from UNHQ/NY, based on an as-yet-unpublished UN report, that apparently says that Palestinian and Syrian demonstrators coming from Syria crossed an “unmarked minefield” in the Golan Heights on May 15 — the day that Israeli forces were surprised by the breach.

From the AFP story, published here, it is not clear if this referred to a field of Israeli, or Syrian, mines.

The unpublished UN report that AFP obtained is apparently linked to forthcoming UN Security Council consideration of periodic renewal, later this month, of the UN peacekeeping mandate on the Golan Heights, known as UNDOF [UN Disengagement Observer Forces]. This UNDOF report, published as a report of the UNSG, was due to be published on 10 June…

The AFP story, published yesterday [Wednesday June 15] says that “On May 15, about 4,000 mainly Palestinian demonstrators gathered on the Golan Heights on the anniversary of Israel’s 1948 creation. The UN report said about 300 moved toward the Israeli side ‘and despite the presence of the Syrian police, crossed the ceasefire line, through an unmarked minefield‘ and broke through an Israeli security fence. Israeli forces at first fired tear gas, then warning shots and then used ‘direct fire’, according to the UN, which said four dead and 41 wounded were reported. On June 5, Palestinians again gathered at two places on the Golan Heights ceasefire line. ‘Despite the presence of Syrian security forces, protesters attempted to breach the ceasefire line in both locations’, the UN said. Israeli forces again used tear gas and then live fire to deter the demonstrators. The UN said up to 23 people were reported killed and many more wounded … The UN report said ‘anti-government demonstrations in Syria spread to several villages’ on the Syrian side of the ceasefire line. UN observer teams have been denied access to six villages ‘ostensibly for reasons of safety and security of the military observers’, the report said”. This AFP story is published here.

This confirms the serious — and still unanswered — questions that have been raised in the past month:
(1) There is a question of proper notification, both to Syrian authorities and to UN peacekeeping missions working in the Golan.
(2) There is also an unanswered question about whether or not the minefields were properly marked [particularly any newly-laid minefields], in order to provide adequate warning to the demonstrators themselves.
(3) The breach of the Syrian and Israeli lines by Palestinian and Syrian protesters in demonstrations both on June 5 and also on May 15 has raised questions about how the UN peacekeeping forces who operate there are working.

The AFP story did seem to show UN confirmation that Syrian authorities didn’t do much but stand by and watch during May15 +June5 protests — though there was no real dispute on that point. The UN report apparently does not say that Syrian authorities actually sponsored, or even encouraged, the demonstrations. [It would be interesting to see anybody argue that the Syrian Army should actually have stopped the protesters from protesting — though the Lebanese Army did shoot at demonstrators on May 15.]

On Monday 6 June, a day after the latest demonstrations, the Israeli media published reports that newly-laid IDF minefields were among the preparations undertaken since the Nakba Day protests on May15 (when Palestinians + Syrians surprised the IDF by crossing the Golan on foot and entering Majdal Shams etc.) These newly-laid IDF minefields were reportedly planted expressly to prevent a second breach of the lines, in anticipation of the June 5 demonstrations marking the start of the June 1967 war (and the start of the Israeli occupation). An unclear number of people, said to be unarmed, were killed by unclear causes, apparently including minefield explosions.

UNDOF’s Croatian Battalion is located in the middle of the UN Zone that separates Israeli and Syrian lines near Majdal Shams.
The current UNDOF deployment map is published here.

The Israeli and Syrian lines are situated where agreed by a 1974 Agreement on the Disengagement of Israeli and Syrian forces. It can’t be found on the UN website, but it is on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, here. It shows the UN zone in the middle of the demarcated area:

Map of Israeli-Syrian Disengagement Agreement - 1974
Israeli-Syrian Disengagement Agreement Map - 1974

The story has not yet been developed.

It is not clear where the old minefields are, or whether they are all clearly marked. And it’s absolutely not clear where any newly-laid minefields are. But, all indications are that the newly-laid minefields were unmarked. (Except by two rows of barbed wire, according to an Israeli friend.)

One report, whose link I’ve unfortunately misplaced, did mention in passing that the IDF lines were overrun on May15 when Israeli troops stopped in their tracks, stunned to see the Palestinian demonstrators crossing minefields [marked, or unmarked?]

The first indications of injuries and deaths from mine explosions came from accounts given to the Israeli media by the IDF Northern Command on June 5, and then by IDF spokespersons themselves. The IDF aid that some protesters supposedly threw Molotov cocktails onto one minefield, apparently near Quneitra, thereby setting off one or more explosions. At least one IDF spokeswoman insisted, in an interview with one of my colleagues, that this peculiar tragedy involved minefields left over from the 1967 war.

UPDATE: However, the as-yet-unpublished UN report blame the fire not on Molotov cocktails supposedly thrown by demonstrators, but rather on the tear gas (or smoke?) canisters fired at the demonstrators by Israeli forces. Thanks to a tip from NYC-based journalist Alex B. Kane, who published his own account on Mondoweiss, there, we discovered a DPA [German Press Agency] story published by Haaretz on Tuesday evening, here reports that “A UN report on the Naksa day events said the IDF used tear gas, smoke grenades and live fire to prevent the demonstrators from crossing the ceasefire line. It stated: ‘Several anti-tank mines exploded due to a brush fire apparently started by tear gas or smoke grenade canisters near UNDOF facilities at Charlie Gate [near Quneitra?], resulting in casualties among protesters’. The brush fire was put out by Syrian and Israeli fire squads, and UNDOF, the report read”.

Another link in Alex Kane’s report for Mondoweiss, a Haaretz report published on June 6, here, “[IDF] Soldiers fired ‘with precision’ at the bottom half of the bodies of the protesters, the army said”. Then, an IDF spokeswoman said that this was further proof that the death toll figures had been exaggerated: We shot them in the feet, she said, and then the wounded were carried away on stretchers, pretending that they were dead…

So, to satisfy the IDF standards of proof that they were only “shot in the feet”, those injured should have walked back across the lines…?

Lack of diesel fuel may force UN pullout — from Eritrea

Another case in the world of diesel fuel deliberately withheld — this time, not in Gaza, but in Eritrea.

And it’s the Eritreans who are withholding it from the UN Peacekeeping mission in their country.

This is another good example, if more were needed (see South Lebanon-Israel now, and the Iraq-Kuwaiti boundary in the future) of why the UN should not be involved in border demarcation, especially when the UN is responding to what it judges are the positions of major powers in the UN Security Council.

In response, the UN is saying it may have to withdraw from Eritrea (of course, this is a move to exert pressure, and the UN would really much prefer to stay…)

The Associated Press is reporting from UNHQ/NY that “In an unusual move, the United Nations is being forced to prepare an imminent pullout from Eritrea and plans to relocate all its peacekeeping troops there across the border in Ethiopia, senior UN officials and diplomats told The Associated Press on Friday. Because of restrictions imposed by the Eritrean government, UN personnel are down to their last remaining emergency reserves of diesel fuel to power generators, vehicles and other equipment for the 7 1/2-year-old peacekeeping operation. At last count, that operation had about 1,500 troops and 200 military observers, along with several hundred civilians and dozens of volunteers based out of Asmara, Eritrea and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. ‘We’re basically going to have to move our troops out at some point, because we’re not getting any more fuel’, a UN diplomat said. ‘We would relocate to Ethiopia. It would not be the end of the mission, we would just not be present in Eritrea’. Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after a 30-year guerrilla war, but the border between the two was never formally drawn up. Tens of thousands were killed in a [another] border war that erupted in 1998. Most of the UN personnel have been used to patrol territory on the Eritrean side. ‘They are making plans to evacuate because they are down to their emergency reserves of fuel, and if they don’t get the fuel and they have no way of getting the fuel in, that would endangers the lives of troops there’, said a senior official within Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office. All the officials and diplomats spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity, because they said Ban hadn’t yet announced his final decision … The secretary-general said in a recent report to the council that with generators used at camps and some field checkpoints for only two hours a day, peacekeeping patrols have been cut back and field staff have struggled to stay in touch. Ban had set Wednesday as a deadline for making a decision, since he said there were only a few days of diesel supplies left and the reserves were intended for emergency evacuations … Under a 2000 peace deal, both sides agreed to accept an international boundary commission’s ruling on the border dispute — and the UN formally began trying to keep the peace in July 2000. The commission proposed a border in 2002, but Ethiopia has refused to accept it because the proposal awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. Now, Eritrea appears to be trying to use the diesel supplies to force the UN to resolve its dispute with Ethiopia”. This AP report is posted here.

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

Israeli paper says UNIFIL wants mandate change so it can fight Hizbullah!

You could get the impression these days that, around the world, UN Peacekeepers are champing at the bit, just looking for a fight!

And if the Israeli Defense Forces couldn’t trounce Hamas, how do these various units of UN Peacekeepers (including from Qatar) think they could do so?

The Jerusalem Post has reported that “UNIFIL would like a more aggressive mandate for its forces to engage Hizbullah on their own, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
After last summer’s war in Lebanon and the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, UNIFIL was beefed up from 2,000 troops to more than 12,000 and received a mandate stipulating that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) be present during any incident involving Hizbullah in southern Lebanon. According to the mandate’s rules of engagement, UNIFIL soldiers are not allowed to engage Hizbullah guerrillas independently. They must first contact the LAF and wait for their arrival and decision whether they request UNIFIL assistance. ‘There is a feeling of frustration within UNIFIL that under the current rules of engagement they are not free to do their job, which is to prevent Hizbullah rearmament in southern Lebanon’, an Israeli defense official told the Post. UNIFIL, commanded by Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano of Italy, cannot make changes to the rules of engagement on its own. The decision needs to be made by the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in conjunction with countries that contribute forces to UNIFIL. UNIFIL is considering rules of engagement that would allow its forces to engage Hizbullah if the LAF does not arrive after being alerted to an incident within a specified, and as yet undetermined, length of time. According to Israeli officials, UNIFIL sometimes waits a long time before the LAF arrives at the scene of an incident. ‘This would certainly be in Israel’s best interest’, a source in IDF Northern Command said. ‘With more aggressive rules of engagement, UNIFIL would be able to more effectively carry out its role at preventing Hizbullah from rearming’. Sources in Northern Command said they have been satisfied with UNIFIL’s performance and believed more could be done within the framework of the current rules of engagement. The sources said OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot and Graziano had a good relationship. When the two met last week, they reportedly reminisced about the year they spent together at the US College of Military and Security Studies. A senior government official who deals with the UN said he did not know of any move by UNIFIL to alter its rules of engagement. The official said UNIFIL has ‘enough tools to operate within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, both south and north of the Litani’.
Meanwhile Thursday, the Turkish press reported that Ankara was bidding to take over command of the UNIFIL maritime force when Germany’s term ends in July.
A local Turkey expert could not confirm the reports, but did say such a move would make sense from a Turkish point of view. According to the source, such a mandate would allow Turkey to raise its profile in the Middle East, something it has been trying to do for some time, at only minimal risk. In addition, the source said, the Turkish and Israeli navies had a good working relationship. The source said a decision to take over the maritime command likely would face little opposition inside Turkey for a number of reasons: first, because it would not be considered dangerous, and second because it would not entail moving Turkish forces from the southern border with Iraq.
Turkey has 87 engineers in the multinational force, and there was some internal opposition to sending troops to the force because of the feeling that the Turkish military should concentrate on the volatile situation on its southern border with Iraq. The Turkish navy, by contrast, is not involved in the situation on that landlocked border.”

Chalk up one more success for UN Peacekeeping

The British newspaper The Guardian has this article published today: “Suspicion of UN troops grows in south Lebanon”, by Clancy Chassay in Maroun al-Ras —
“Six months after a UN-brokered ceasefire ended Israel’s war with Hizbullah, scepticism about the role of 10,000 UN troops is growing in south Lebanon amid signs that the militant Shia group is retraining and re-equipping its forces. The international force, deployed to keep the peace and support the expansion of the Lebanese army’s authority over the previously Hizbullah-controlled south, is perceived by villagers to be favouring Israel. ‘They are not our guests any more’, said Hajj Ali, a revered Hizbullah fighter from the large southern town of Bint Jbeil, who limps from an injury sustained during the summer war. ‘If they continue to help the Israelis we will have to take action against them’. Many in the south suspect Israel is trying to create a buffer zone along the border on Lebanese land allegedly captured during the war and that the UN is assisting it, furthering the popular perception that the UN forces, UNIFIL, are in south Lebanon to protect Israel from Hizbullah. Hizbullah, Lebanon’s largest political party, is still part of the social fabric and continues military activities along the border … In the bomb-shattered village of Maroun al-Ras, overlooking the Lebanon Israeli border, 65-year-old farmer Mohammed Allawi was repairing damage to his house from Israeli shelling. He said many farmers were no longer able to tend their fields for fear of being shot by Israeli troops. ‘UNIFIL has not lifted a hand against Israel but only intervenes to protect the Israelis, why are they on our land and why have they brought so many tanks?’ Hussein, a relative from Bint Jbeil, said the French were particularly unpopular. Hostility towards Lebanon’s former colonial power can be found across the south. ‘Why are the French so aggressive?’ asked Mr Allawi’s wife, Fatmeh, ‘They come through the village at night in their big, noisy tanks, scaring the children. They never talk to us and we don’t know what they are doing’. Nevertheless, UNIFIL provides jobs and social services and plays a vital role in disposing of unexploded munitions … Hizbullah still dominates the south, its security men policing the Shia villages and its fighters patrolling the border, albeit with greater stealth than before. A senior UNIFIL official said operational bunkers had been found and that Hizbullah fighters had been seen on patrols. As the UN destroys Hizbullah’s military infrastructure, the threat of confrontation grows. The official, speaking off the record, said some areas controlled by the Lebanese army were off limits to the UN. Hajj Ali said they were Hizbullah military zones protected under a deal between Hizbullah and the Lebanese army.”,,2019497,00.html

UN says both Israel and Lebanon violated cease-fire last week

ALVARO DE SOTO, Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said in an open meeting of the UN Security Council at UNHQ/NY today that, on 7 February, both Israel and Lebanon had violated a cease-fire that had held since August: “The Israel Defense Forces had signalled to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that it intended to cross the Israeli technical fence to clear a number of mines that it claimed to have identified north of the fence on Israeli territory. UNIFIL urged the IDF to suspend its action and to resolve the matter through UNIFIL’s liaison channels and through an urgent tripartite meeting, so as to avoid an increase in tension along the Blue Line. Despite those appeals, the Israel Defense Forces proceeded with the operation later that night. The Lebanese Army fired on the IDF after it made an opening in the technical fence, but while it was still on the Israeli side of the Blue Line. The IDF responded with at least one missile. No casualties were reported. Subsequently, an IDF bulldozer and excavator carried out earthworks to clear the area of mines and violated the Blue Line in the process. Two days earlier, and at the same location, the IDF had shot at and destroyed four improvised explosive devices on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line. The firing by the Lebanese Army constituted a violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and a breach of the cessation of hostilities agreement. The IDF also violated resolution 1701 by crossing the Blue Line, and the exchange of fire posed a threat to the lives of UNIFIL troops patrolling in the area.”

It may be the only time that the Lebanese Army has ever opened fire on the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), who have been in and out of Lebanon since 1978. An extended occupation of southern Lebanon was ended unilaterally by Lebanon only in May 2000. In the middle of July last year, the IDF re-invaded Lebanon to take on Hizbollah forces, who shot a large number of missiles over northern Israel, and hit an Israeli boat off the Lebanese coast.

Since then, the UN Peacekeeping force UNIFIL has been given an expanded mandate to help the Lebanese Army operate all the way through the south of Lebanon. UNIFIL is also supposed to interdict and confiscate any arms not authorized by the Lebanese Army.

In an article published today on Counterpunch, Israeli journalist Uri Avnery accuses Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of engaging in several recent provocative acts, including along the border with Lebanon:
“PROVOCATION NO. 1: The northern frontier.
Along the northern border runs a fence. But not everywhere does the fence coincide exactly with the recognized border (the so-called Blue Line). For topographical reasons, some sections of the fence run a few dozen meters south of it. That is the theory of the situation. In the course of the years, both sides have become accustomed to regarding the fence as the actual border. On the Lebanese side, the villagers farm the fields up to the fence, fields which may well be their property. Now Ehud Olmert has decided to exploit this situation and reveal himself as a great, invincible warrior. Some explosives recently found a few yards from the Blue Line serve as a pretext. The Israeli army claims that they were put there just days ago by Hizbullah fighters disguised as goatherds. According to Hizbullah, they are old bombs that have been there since before the recent war. Olmert sent soldiers beyond the fence to carry out a ‘Hissuf’ (‘exposure’) – one of those new Hebrew words invented by the army’s ‘verbal laundry’ to beautify ugly things. It means the wholesale uprooting of trees, in order to improve vision and facilitate shooting. The army used the trademark weapon of the State of Israel: the armored bulldozer. The Lebanese army sent a warning that they would open fire. When this did not have any effect, they indeed fired several salvoes over the heads of the Israeli soldiers. The Israeli army responded by firing several tank shells at the Lebanese position and lo – we have our ‘incident’. The whole affair is very reminiscent of Ariel Sharon’s methods in the 60s, when he was the chief of operations of the Northern Command. Sharon became quite an expert at provoking the Syrian army in the demilitarized zones that existed on the border between the two countries at the time. Israel claimed sovereignty over these areas, while the Syrians asserted that it was a neutral zone that did not belong to either state and in which the Arab farmers, who owned the land, were allowed to tend their fields. According to legend, the Syrians exploited their control of heights overlooking the Israeli villages in the valley below them. Again and again the evil Syrians (the Syrians were always “evil”) terrorized the helpless kibbutzim by shelling. This myth, which was believed by practically all Israelis at the time, served as a justification for the occupation of the Golan Heights and their annexation by Israel. Even now, foreign visitors are brought to an observation post on the Golan Heights and shown the defenseless Kibbutzim down below. The truth, which has been exposed since then, was a bit different: Sharon used to instruct the Kibbutzniks to go to their shelters, and then send an armored tractor into the demilitarized zone. Predictably, the Syrians shot at it. The Israeli artillery, just waiting for its cue, then opened up a massive bombardment of the Syrian positions. There were dozens of such ‘incidents’. Now the same method is being practiced by Sharon’s successor. Soldiers and bulldozers enter the area, the Lebanese shoot, the Israeli tanks shell them. Does this provocation make any political sense? The Lebanese army answers to Fuad Siniora, the darling of the United States and the opponent of Hizbullah. In the wake of the Second Lebanon War, this army was deployed along the border, at the express demand of the Israeli government, and this was proclaimed by Olmert as a huge Israeli achievement. (Until then, the Israeli army commanders had adamantly opposed the idea of stationing Lebanese or international troops in this area, on the grounds that this would hamper their freedom of action.) So what is the aim of this provocation? The same as with all Olmert’s recent actions: gaining popularity to survive in power, in this case by creating tension … Forty years of occupation have created an occupation mentality that destroys all desire and all ability to solve problems by mutual understanding, dialogue and compromise. Both in foreign and domestic relations, Mafia methods reign: violence, sudden blows, targeted eliminations.  When these methods are applied by a politician haunted by corruption affairs, an uninhibited war-monger who is fighting for survival by all means available – this is indeed a very dangerous situation.”

UN taking stiff position on IDF bulldozer crossing technical fence in southern Lebanon

The UN said today, about Wednesday night’s shooting on the southen border of Lebanon, that “The exchange of fire, which was initiated by the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces] after an IDF [Israeli Defence Forces]bulldozer crossed the technical fence in an apparent attempt to clear the area between the technical fence and the Blue Line of mines, constitutes a breach of the cessation of hostilities as laid out in Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)…UNIFIL is currently ascertaining all the facts concerning the incident…UNIFIL troops, in coordination with the Lebanese army, have also placed a sign to visibly mark the Blue Line in this area. The Force Commander, Maj. Gen Graziano, has been in contact with the parties and has called for a tripartite meeting with the senior representatives of the Lebanese Army and the Israel Defence Force early next week…”

The previous night’s shooting may have been the first time the Lebanese Army ever actually fired upon Israeli forces.

The Security Council also issued a statement saying: “The members of the Council expressed deep concern about this incident. They look forward to the ascertaining of all the facts by UNIFIL and to the forthcoming tripartite meeting asked for by UNIFIL Force Commander. The members of the Council appealed to all parties to respect the Blue Line in its entirety, to exercise utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that could further escalate the situation.”

Qatar's Peacekeepers arrive in Lebanon – while Lebanese leave

A full contingent of 184 Qatari troops is now deployed with the UN Peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL.

As the UNIFIL press release says, the Qatari forces will be “assisting the Lebanese Army in securing stability in southern Lebanon as part of Security Council resolution 1701”.

With the arrival of the Qataris, UNIFIL now has a force strenth of 12,000 soldiers and other personnel from 28 different countries (Belgium, China, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Republic of Korea, Luxemburg, Malaysia, Nepal, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Turkey).

Meanwhile, the Spanish contingent in UNIFIL has started a “major Spanish language training programme”, offering language lessons to some 300 students in and around the town of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. “The programme is sponsored by the Spanish authorities and is being run under the auspices of the Cervantes Institute”, the UNIFIL press release notes.

This could be useful for those Lebanese who want to emigrate — and a new study suggests that there are many of them, according to a report published today and posted on Yahoo news: “The scale of the hemorrhage is hard to pin down, especially in a land with a long, fluid history of migration and return, but researcher Eugen Dabbous said a survey he had helped to run had confirmed many Lebanese are heading for the exits. ‘Sixty percent of those surveyed want to leave,’ he said.
The project, conducted by the Lebanese Emigration Research Center, questioned about 600 residents from two groups — students or recent graduates and middle-aged people. ‘The younger people want to leave because they don’t see a future in Lebanon, and the older group because they want to get their children out of harm’s way,’ Dabbous said. He said up to a million of Lebanon’s estimated four million citizens already live abroad, mingling with a far bigger Lebanese-origin diaspora born of two centuries of migration. Once mostly Christian, the outflow now affects Lebanon’s Shi’ite and Sunni Muslim communities just as much. Many who left during the 1975-90 civil war sank permanent roots abroad … So many Lebanese have left for the Gulf in recent months that wages there have declined, said Carole Contavelis, a recruitment consultant for Beirut’s Headhunter International. Of 19 people she interviewed for a general manager post in Beirut, 15 had left the country: ‘At the upper management level, it’s 70-80 percent who are out of Lebanon.’ Contavelis said the employment market had been ‘awful’ since last year’s war and was still getting worse, while political instability meant no one could plan their lives sensibly. ‘Now with the brain drain, we don’t have a middle class any more,’ she complained. ‘How can you build a country like that?’ Asked what would have to change to induce people to stay, she said: ‘Frankly, everything. No bribery. We need security, clean politicians. They are treating us like cows, but we don’t want to follow any more’…”

In other news reported by UNIFIL, “two Belgian de-miners were injured by shrapnel in a cluster bomb explosion during a mine-clearance operation in the vicinity of Kunin, near the town of Bint Jubayl”.

The U.S. has said last week that Israel may have violated their agreement about the use of U.S.-supplied cluster bombs, during last summer’s Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

One report suggests that the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) apparently used the older U.S.-made cluster bombs, which are not equipped with auto-destruct mechanisms, rather than the newer Israeli-produced cluster bombs which can self-destruct in a short period of time after being used. This auto-destruct mechanism is considered to be an important humanitarian advance, which helps avoid casualties when civilians return to their homes and fields after a conflict is over.

Earlier reports, during the summer, suggested that the IDF was emptying its warehouses of old stock during the attack on Lebanon.

UN and international de-mining teams have identified oer 800 zones in Lebanon where unexploded cluster bomb fragments continue to pose a grave hazard to life and limb.

The UNIFIL press release reports that “UNIFIL de-miners destroyed more than 4,000 explosive devices during the first four weeks of
January 2007. These included rockets, grenades, cluster bombs and anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.”

The UNIFIL website — not so easy to find — is at

In other UN Peacekeeping news, the UN Security Council has given a rap on the knuckles to Ethiopia and Eritrea, by ordering a reduction of 500 troops in the UN peacekeeping mission there (UNMEE). Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, after a long and hard-fought conflict. Tensions still remain, however, and sometimes flare up, between the two neighbors. The UN Security Council expressed disappointment in the stalled process to demarcate the boundary between the two feuding Horn of Africa neighbors.

Ethiopia does not accept an international boundary commission’s ruling, which awarded the key town of Badme to Eritrea. And Eritrea has moved troops and equipment into a buffer zone between the two countries.
The UN Peacekeeping mission will be reduced from 2300 to 1700 persons, but its mandate has been extended for a six-month period.

Ethiopian troops, meanwhile, have not withdrawn from Somalia, which they entered with U.S. training and backing in support of the UN Security-Council-backed Transitional Government. (Ethiopia has said that Eritrean forces were associated with the Islamic Courts grouping that had been credited with bringing a semblance of law and order to what is known as a “failed state” — but which has now been ousted.)

Troops from Qatar set to join UNIFIL in Lebanon

The UN Spokesman told journalists on Wednesday that “The UN Interim Force for Lebanon says that an advance party for an infantry unit from Qatar has joined the Force ahead of a full deployment of Qatari peacekeepers. “

UNIFIL nears full "reinforced" strength

The UN Spokesman has just reported that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has surpassed the 11,000 mark with the full deployment of an infantry battalion from Indonesia and an engineering unit from Portugal.

UN SG Kofi Annan reported recently to the UN Security Council that, once UNIFIL reaches a force strength of 11,500, UNIFIL will be in a position to fulfil its “reinforced” mandate, post-Israel-attack-on-Lebanon in July-August 2006.  The current total, more than 11,000 from 23 countries, is made up of more than 9,000 ground troops and more than 1,700 naval personnel, the UN Spokesman told journalists at UNHQ/NY on Friday.

And, the UN Spokesman said on Friday, UNIFIL peacekeepers continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the local population, with 552 instances where UNIFIL peacekeepers provided medical assistance over the past week. Meanwhile, in the last week, UNIFIL de-miners from various national contingents destroyed a total of 1,305 separate explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs.

Asked by journalists about the reimbursement of costs for the maritime deployment, the Spokesman said that the United Nations was still trying to work out financial arrangements with the Member States.

The interesting if not-always-accurate Israeli online beyond-the-news site, Debka File, reported with some displeasure on the day the Israeli Defense Force mostly-withdrew from Lebanon on 1 October, that “Only one third of the 15,000 international peacekeepers the UN Security Council pledged for an expanded UNIFIL has in fact been deployed in South Lebanon…While withdrawing the bulk of its force gradually, Israel kept the last units behind in a futile effort to persuade UNIFIL commanders to uphold key provisions of the resolution. They refused even the minimal demand to restrict Hizballah’s military movements along the Israeli border.  They claimed they could only act with the permission of the Lebanese government.  By finally giving way on this point, the Israeli government accepted the determination that UNIFIL is the instrument of the Lebanese government – not the enforcer of UN resolutions or Israeli security. This concession makes nonsense of the claim that the most important gain of the Lebanon operation was the removal of Hizballah’s fighting forces from access to the Israeli border.”

Since, then, according to the UNSG’s report (see previous posts) has gone some way to alleviating Israel’s concerns — and has even opened UNIFIL offices in the Tel Aviv Kirya, near the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and at the IDF northern command HQ.

The Debkafile story continued: “Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah used the war to forge alliances with the Lebanese parliamentary speaker Nabih Berri, head of the rival Shiite movement Amal, and the Christian Maronite strongman Michel Aoun. This bloc intends to make a bid to install a pro-Syrian government after Ramadan is over next month.  Our sources in Beirut report a last-minute US-French initiative to frustrate this development.  Siniora had his interior minister Ahmed Fatfat posted decree No. 2403 for Lebanon’s five intelligence and security agencies to pool their intelligence data and so provide his government and national army with the means of asserting control over national security.  Two pro-Syrian officers, General Security chief Wafic Jezzini, and Director-General of Internal Security forces, Maj.-Gen Ashraf Rifi, stamped hard on this decree. The Siniora government was thus denied a key resource for dominating the country at large, not just the South, and is more vulnerable than ever to a hostile push.  As for Israel’s policy-makers, their handling of the bargaining with UNIFIL was as muddled, vacillating and feeble as their conduct of the Lebanon war itself.  By accepting the Aug. 14 truce, they agreed to handing over the Lebanese-Israeli border to an international peacekeeping force without teeth; its rules of engagement are so constrictive that without Lebanese government authorization its members may not fire a single shot – even when necessary to prevent Hizballah moving back to its former aggressive positions or smuggling in fresh supplies of weapons”.

An earlier Debka File story described UNIFIL’s rules of engagement: “The force’s commanders have sufficient authority to act forcefully when confronted with hostile activity of any kind. UNIFIL personnel may exercise the inherent right of self-defense, as well as ‘the use of force beyond self-defense to ensure that UNIFIL’s area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities.’  The peacekeepers also may use force ‘to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent UNIFIL from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, to protect U.N. personnel, facilities, installations and equipment and to ensure the security and freedom of movement of U.N. personnel and humanitarian workers.’Â Also the use of force may be applied ‘to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence in its areas of deployment, within its capabilities’.”  DEBKAfile notes that all these locutions are open to broad interpretation. For instance, ‘hostile activity’ could apply to an attack from outer space … The ‘arms embargo’ ordered by Resolution 1701 is another unmentionable.  The ‘civilians’ to be protected are likewise undefined. UNIFIL’s commander has full discretion to decide whether or not it is applicable to a Hizballlah rocket attack on Nahariya … By their silence and passivity, Israeli leaders hope to hide the true outcome of that bungled campaign from Israeli and world opinion.  Foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who proudly held up the UN force’s deployment as the war’s only success and the formula for Israel’s successful exit strategy, has been strangely struck dumb”.

There’s an interesting OpEd piece in today’s NY Times (seen in link from Angry Arab), and here are some excerpts of the better parts: “ONCE more, Lebanon is in political crisis. This time, we are told, it pits ‘Syrian- and Iranian-backed’ Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) and the Christian faction led by Michel Aoun against the ‘Western-backed’ Christian, Sunni and Druze groups that support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.  These very descriptions — citing one external backer or another as a mark of political identification —  illustrate the fundamental problem Lebanon must overcome.  Call it the Lebanese Disease: rather than sorting out their differences internally and addressing the fundamental injustices at the heart of their disputes, the Lebanese constantly look to outsiders to gain an advantage over their rivals.  Naturally, any advantages thus gained are short-lived, for both the Lebanese and their foreign backers.  In the end, the only result is greater popular suffering and instability in Lebanon and the entire Middle East.
… Only the Lebanese can cure themselves of this disease, but a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of the ‘Western backers’ — primarily the United States and France — would greatly help.

“Let’s dial back half a year, to the start of this latest crisis.  The immediate reaction of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel to the cross-border attack by Hezbollah on Israeli troops was his most honest. This was not, he said, an act of terrorism — it was an act of war.  And, issues of proportionality aside, it was quite justifiable to hold the Lebanese government to account.   The honesty of that initial reaction, however, was quickly replaced by the old formula to which Israel has resorted since 1978.  Israel did not intend to attack Lebanon, its spokesmen insisted, but was just trying to help the Lebanese by attacking Iran-controlled Hezbollah.  This was a polite way of saying to Mr. Siniora: We’re going to rid ourselves — and you — of Hezbollah, for which you should be grateful, and you’d better make sure they don’t rise again.

“Now let’s try to view this from the perspective of a Lebanese nationalist. To acquiesce to the American-Israeli formula for Lebanon would be to accept that one’s nation should be entirely supine before a neighbor; that any time the Israelis decided to react to a limited provocation or threat, the only defense one could mount would be the tearful pleas of a powerless prime minister.  Thus it should not be surprising that many Lebanese, including Mr. Siniora, at least temporarily put aside their factional mistrust and embraced Hezbollah as the sole available means of national resistance. This, along with Hezbollah’s surprisingly successful resistance, has permanently changed the political calculus of the nation … its involvement in Lebanese politics since the summer has already brought discernible changes in Hezbollah’s attitudes and behavior. Its leaders understand that if they want to influence the policies of the state, they will have to accommodate the interests of other religious groups and political factions.

“…Tacitly encouraging civil war is seldom wise, and particularly when the side with which one is affiliated cannot win.  It should be obvious that American — and Israeli — interests are best served by a unified Lebanese state that has clear control over its people and its territory.  We now know that Hezbollah is not going to be eradicated, nor its influence reduced.  So the only way of making the Lebanese government accountable is to encourage the progressive, moderating integration of Hezbollah into the political, social and military fabric of the state.

“…we should give up talk of greatly enlarging the multinational force in southern Lebanon, and convince the Europeans to do likewise. Fortunately, the plan to insert such a force this fall foundered when the French (wisely) decided they were not up to the task of disarming Hezbollah, although smaller numbers of European troops are apparently headed there soon. It is folly, particularly with lightly armed foreign forces, to try to get regional actors to do things that they see as fundamentally against their interests.

“Second is to end the proxy battles between foreign powers. I don’t know what the Americans are telling the Lebanese government privately, but the public statements are disappointing. Last month the White House issued an official statement citing ‘attempts by Syria, Iran, and their allies within Lebanon to foment instability and violence’ and insisting the United States would ‘continue its efforts with allied nations and democratic forces in Lebanon to resist these efforts.’ In other words, we’re still trying to rile Lebanese sentiment as a wedge against our enemies in the region … Washington will never achieve its objectives in the Middle East — including its obligation to ensure Israel’s long-term security — unless it puts emotions aside and deals realistically with facts on the ground.  Like it or not, Hezbollah is one of those facts. A less-than-pliable but strong government in Lebanon would be far preferable to no real government at all, which is what we have now.”

Robert Grenier, a former director of the Central Intelligence Agency’s counterintelligence center, is a security consultant.