UN renews Lebanon peacekeepers’ mandate after ‘difficult’ talks between France, US and UAE

Special A United Nations peacekeeper (UNIFIL) is pictured on a UN armoured vehicle in Naqoura, near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, August 31, 2023. (Reuters)
A United Nations peacekeeper (UNIFIL) is pictured on a UN armoured vehicle in Naqoura, near the border with Israel, southern Lebanon, August 31, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 01 September 2023
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UN renews Lebanon peacekeepers’ mandate after ‘difficult’ talks between France, US and UAE

A UN peacekeeper (UNIFIL) is pictured on a UN armoured vehicle in Naqoura, near the border with Israel, Lebanon.
  • The vote was postponed a day earlier over disagreements about the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s freedom of movement and the need for government permission to carry out its tasks
  • An Emirati diplomat involved in the negotiations told Arab News: ‘We believe today’s outcome went a long way toward serving the interests of the Lebanese people and the region’
  • Attempts to pursue progress in Lebanon through partnership with Hezbollah has resulted only in disappointment and misery, the UAE’s envoy told the Security Council

NEW YORK CITY: After two intense days of negotiations, and several amendments to a draft resolution, the UN Security Council on Thursday voted to extend the mandate for the UN peacekeeping force in South Lebanon until Aug. 31, 2024.

The draft was prepared by France, which is the penholder on Lebanon. A penholder is the member of the council that leads the negotiation and drafting of resolutions on a particular agenda item. It was eventually adopted with 13 votes in favor. Russia and China abstained.

A previously scheduled vote was postponed at the last minute on Wednesday as a result of disagreements between council members France, the US and the UAE over how the UN Interim Force in Lebanon should be allowed to exercise its freedom of movement, and how to address restrictions and challenges the peacekeepers face in accessing key locations.

A number of Security Council sources told Arab News the negotiations had proved to be “difficult.”

UNIFIL was established in 1978 with a mandate to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon and maintain stability along the border between the two countries.

The main point of contention in the renewal of its mandate this week related to a paragraph that was added to the text of the renewal resolution last year, Resolution 2650, which stipulated that “UNIFIL does not require prior authorization or permission to undertake its mandated tasks” and that it “is authorized to conduct its operations independently.”

This language was not well received by Hezbollah or the Lebanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which issued a statement shortly after the resolution was adopted last year protesting that the “wording (does) not conform to the framework agreement Lebanon has signed with the UN.”

In the resolution adopted on Thursday, the contentious paragraph was retained but, in consideration of the Lebanese demands, France added text that called for peacekeepers to engage in “continuing coordination with the Lebanese government.”

As part of a compromise with the US and the UAE, France also reintroduced language it had deleted from last year’s resolution that demands all parties allow “announced and unannounced patrols” by UN troops.

In August, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres sent a letter to the Security Council in which he said UNIFIL’s “ability to conduct patrols and activities independently must be maintained,” but also stressed that cooperation and coordination between the peacekeepers and the Lebanese Armed Forces “remain crucial for the successful implementation of Resolution 1701.”

In the aftermath of a month-long conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, Resolution 1701 expanded UNIFIL’s mission to enable peacekeepers to assist the Lebanese military in efforts to prevent the presence of weapons or armed fighters in the south, other than those representing the Lebanese government.

This caused tensions with Hezbollah, which maintains de facto control over southern Lebanon despite the official presence of the Lebanese army.

“We’ve had long-standing concerns regarding the actions by some actors to obstruct the mission’s freedom of movement,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN, told the Security Council on Thursday.

“The resolution adopted today includes language strongly reaffirming UNIFIL’s full freedom of movement.”

According to diplomatic sources within the council, the UAE had objected to the addition of the language calling for UN troops to coordinate their activities with the Lebanese government, and reiterated the view that UNIFIL does not need prior authorization to carry out tasks.

On Wednesday, the UAE submitted an amendment, seen by Arab News, to the contentious paragraph. The amendment retained the wording of the paragraph as it was adopted last year, therefore reinforcing the view that UNIFIL does not need prior authorization to carry out patrols or other activities.

Shortly before Thursday’s vote, however, the UAE withdrew its amendment and so council members only voted on the latest draft of the resolution as a whole.

“Security Council negotiations are increasingly complicated by heightened global tensions and this sometimes results in neglecting regional interests and concerns,” an Emirati diplomat involved in the negotiations told Arab News.

“Our priority was to prevent this from happening with regards to the UNIFIL mandate. We believe today’s outcome went a long way toward serving the interests of the Lebanese people and the region.”

The Emirati envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, welcomed the “clear language” added by France to the text confirming the independence of the UN peacekeepers, and urged the Lebanese government to “meet its responsibilities with regards to UNIFIL’s freedom of movement, which it has been failing to do on several occasions.”

She told council members: “The fact is, tensions on the Blue Line are at a level unseen since the 2006 war. Over the past year, on a daily basis, Hezbollah has been making a mockery of Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559.

“(Hezbollah) has erected concrete military outposts and observation towers, conducted military drills with live fire, and prevented UNIFIL’s freedom of movement while brazenly attacking peacekeeping forces.

“It has also actively perpetuated Lebanon’s myriad crises, obstructed the investigation into the devastating Beirut Port explosion, and paralyzed key institutions of the State.”

Nusseibeh continued: “These extremely inflammatory actions threaten a dangerous escalation in our region. That is why the UAE worked hard with the penholder and council members in extensive negotiations to ensure that UNIFIL’s mandate addresses developments on the ground that strike at the core of UNIFIL’s ability to fulfill that mandate.

“And UNIFIL continues to face challenges to its freedom of movement and the lack of access to locations of interest, as reported by the secretary-general of the UN. As such, we sought to improve the text to better address these challenges and to support UNIFIL’s efforts to maintain calm and stability in South Lebanon and the entire region.”

However, she expressed disappointment with what she described as “the needless compromise to remove the unqualified reference to the Israeli occupation of (the town of) Al-Ghajar, which was in previous drafts and, we think, enjoyed widespread support in this council.”

She added: “We would also have preferred clear references to the increasing obstacles hampering UNIFIL’s freedom of movement and its ability to reach all important sites, including areas where containers are placed by the Hezbollah-affiliated Green Without Borders.

“The UAE also fails to understand the hesitation to name Hezbollah and its group, who are actively undermining UNIFIL’s ability to conduct its mandate within its areas of operation.

“No amount of accommodation will change the fact that the pursuit of progress in Lebanon through partnership with Hezbollah has only yielded disappointment and misery, not least of all for the people of Lebanon.”


Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
Updated 4 sec ago
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Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says

Ships entering Yemeni waters must obtain permit, Houthi minister says
CAIRO: Ships will have to obtain a permit from Yemen’s Houthi-controlled Maritime Affairs Authority before entering Yemeni waters, Houthi Telecommunications Minister Misfer Al-Numair said on Monday.
Houthi militants have repeatedly launched drones and missiles against international commercial shipping in the Gulf of Aden since mid-November, saying they are acting in solidarity with Palestinians against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
The near-daily attacks have forced firms into long and costly diversions around southern Africa, and stoked fears that the Israel-Hamas war could destabilize the wider Middle East. The United States and Britain have bombed Houthi targets in response.
“(We) are ready to assist requests for permits and identify ships with the Yemeni Navy, and we confirm this is out of concern for their safety,” Al Masirah TV, the main television news outlet run by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, reported Al-Numair as saying.
The territorial waters affected by the Yemeni order extend halfway out into the 20-km (12-mile) wide Bab Al-Mandab Strait, the narrow mouth of the Red Sea through which around 15 percent of the world’s shipping traffic passes on its way to or from the Suez Canal.
In normal times, more than a quarter of global container cargo — including apparel, appliances, auto parts, chemicals and agricultural products like coffee — move via the Suez Canal.
Former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates said there “is good reason to doubt” that the Iran-allied Houthis would stop their assaults on vessels if a ceasefire ends Israel’s major military operations in Gaza.
“They may decide that they like the idea of controlling the amount of shipping going through the Red Sea, and will continue this for an indefinite period of time,” Gates said at the TPM24 container shipping conference in Long Beach, California.
Elsewhere on Monday, Hong Kong-based HGC Global Communications said that at least four underwater communications cables — Asia-Africa-Europe 1, the Europe India Gateway, Seacom and TGN-Gulf — had been damaged last week in the Red Sea, without stating the cause.
It estimated that the damage had affected 25 percent of the data traffic flowing under the Red Sea, and said in a statement that it had devised a plan to reroute traffic.
Al-Numair’s ministry on Saturday blamed US and British attacks for any damage to cables.
In the latest incident, the UK Maritime Trade Operations agency said on Monday it had received a report that a vessel had been damaged by two explosions, 91 nautical miles southeast of Aden, but there were no casualties and the vessel was proceeding to its next port of call.
Yemen has been mired in conflict since Houthis ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014. The Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in 2015, aiming to restore the government.

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7
Updated 05 March 2024
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UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UN envoy says ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe Hamas committed sexual violence on Oct. 7

UNITED NATIONS: The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict said in a new report Monday that there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhumane treatment of women during its surprise attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7.
There are also “reasonable grounds to believe that such violence may be ongoing,” said Pramila Patten, who visited Israel and the West Bank from Jan. 29 to Feb. 14 with a nine-member technical team.
Based on first-hand accounts of released hostages, she said the team “found clear and convincing information” that some women and children during their captivity were subjected to the same conflict-related sexual violence including rape and “sexualized torture.”
The report comes nearly five months after the Oct. 7 attacks, which left about 1,200 people dead and some 250 others taken hostage. Israel’s war against Hamas has since laid waste to the Gaza Strip, killing more than 30,000 people, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. The UN says a quarter of Gaza’s 2.3 million people face starvation.
Hamas has rejected earlier allegations that its fighters committed sexual assault.
Patten stressed at a press conference launching the report that the team’s visit was not to investigate allegations of sexual violence but to gather, analyze and verify information for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ annual report on sexual violence in conflict and for the UN Security Council.
Her key recommendation is to encourage Israel to grant access to the UN human rights chief and the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Palestinian territories and Israel “to carry out full-fledged investigations into the alleged violations” — and she expressed hope the Security Council would do this.
Patten said the team was not able to meet with any victims of sexual violence “despite concerted efforts to encourage them to come forward.” While the number of victims remains unknown, she said, “a small number of those who are undergoing treatment are reportedly experiencing severe mental distress and trauma.”
However, team members held 33 meetings with Israeli institutions and conducted interviews with 34 people including survivors and witnesses of the Oct. 7 attacks, released hostages, health providers and others.
Based on the information it gathered, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that conflict-related sexual violence occurred during the 7 October attacks in multiple locations across Gaza periphery, including rape and gang rape, in at least three locations.”
Across various locations, she said, the team found “that several fully naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down were recovered – mostly women – with hands tied and shot multiple times, often in the head.”
While this is circumstantial, she said the pattern of undressing and restraining victims “may be indicative of some forms of sexual violence.”
At the Nova music festival and its surroundings, Patten said, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that multiple incidents of sexual violence took place with victims being subjected to rape and/or gang rape and then killed or killed while being raped.”
“There are further accounts of individuals who witnessed at least two incidents of rape of corpses of women,” Patten said. “Other credible sources at the Nova music festival site described seeing multiple murdered individuals, mostly women, whose bodies were found naked from the waist down, some totally naked,” some shot in the head, some tied to trees or poles with their hands bound.
On Road 232 — the road to leave the festival — “credible information based on witness accounts describe an incident of the rape of two women by armed elements,” Patten said. Other reported rapes and gang rapes couldn’t be verified and require investigation.
“Along this road, several bodies were found with genital injuries, along with injuries to other body parts,” she said. “Discernible patterns of genital mutilation could not be verified at this time but warrant future investigation.”
She said “the mission team also found a pattern of bound naked or partially naked bodies from the waist down, in some cases tied to structures including trees and poles, along Road 232.”
People fleeing the Nova music festival also attempted to escape south and sought shelter in and around kibbutz Reim where Patten said there are “reasonable grounds” to believe sexual violence occurred.
The mission team verified the rape of a woman outside a bomb shelter and heard of other allegations of rape that could not yet be verified.
At Kibbutz Be’eri, Patten said, her team “was able to determine that at least two allegations of sexual violence widely repeated in the media, were unfounded due to either new superseding information or inconsistency in the facts gathered.”
These included a highly publicized allegation that a pregnant woman’s womb was reportedly ripped open before being killed with her fetus stabbed inside her, Patten said.
Another was “the interpretation initially made of the body of a girl found separated from the rest of her family, naked from the waist down,” she said. “It was determined by the mission team that the crime scene had been altered by a bomb squad and the bodies moved, explaining the separation of the body of the girl from the rest of her family.”
Patten said further investigation is needed of allegations, including of bodies found naked and in one case gagged, at kibbutz Be’eri to determine if sexual violence occurred.
At Kibbutz Kfar Aza, Patten said, verification of sexual violence was not possible. But she said “available circumstantial information – notably the recurring pattern of female victims found undressed, bound, and shot – indicates that sexual violence, including potential sexualized torture, or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, may have occurred.”
On Oct. 7, the Nahal Oz Military Base, which operated as a hub for signals intelligence and monitoring of the Gaza perimeter fence, was also breached by Hamas and “a significant number” of male and female soldiers stationed there were killed, and seven young female soldiers were abducted and taken to Gaza, Patten said.
Patten stressed that “the true prevalence of sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attacks and their aftermath may take months or years to emerge and may never be fully known.”


Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
Updated 05 March 2024
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Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials

Jordanian crown prince chairs cyber dialogue with US officials
  • Event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US

LONDON: Changes in regional and international security demand a faster response to emerging technology-related threats, Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah said on Monday.

The crown prince chaired the opening session of the second Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue, which was also attended by US Deputy National Security Adviser for Cyber and Emerging Technology Anne Neuberger.

Officials and experts from both countries participated in the dialogue, which discussed ways to improve cybersecurity cooperation, counter cyber threats, and develop information and communications technology systems, Jordan News Agency reported.

The event was taking place some 75 years after the establishment of diplomatic relations between Jordan and the US.

The crown prince said that complex cyber threats were increasing globally, which necessitated additional cooperation and coordination among stakeholders on both sides. He cited the dialogue as an important and strategic means of enhancing efforts and strengthening the partnership between the two countries.

He spoke of the importance of utilizing cutting-edge technologies, developing the skills of cybersecurity professionals, and aligning national frameworks with global standards.

The first Jordan-US Cyber and Digital Dialogue was held last year in Washington, and both sides agreed to hold it annually.

The crown prince stressed the importance of bilateral cooperation in cyber and digital security, citing links to both countries’ national security interests.
 


Israel escalates its criticism of a UN agency in Gaza. It says 450 of its workers are militants

Israel escalates its criticism of a UN agency in Gaza. It says 450 of its workers are militants
Updated 05 March 2024
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Israel escalates its criticism of a UN agency in Gaza. It says 450 of its workers are militants

Israel escalates its criticism of a UN agency in Gaza. It says 450 of its workers are militants
  • UNRWA, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza, is the biggest aid provider in the enclave

JERUSALEM: Israel ramped up its criticism of the embattled UN agency for Palestinian refugees Monday, saying 450 of its employees were members of militant groups in the Gaza Strip, though it provided no evidence to back up its accusation.
Major international funders have withheld hundreds of millions of dollars from the agency, known as UNRWA, since Israel accused 12 of its employees of participating in the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks on Israel that killed 1,200 people and left about 250 others held hostage in Gaza, according to Israeli authorities.
The UN envoy focusing on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said Monday there were “reasonable grounds” to believe Hamas committed rape, “sexualized torture,” and other cruel and inhuman treatment of women during the attack.
The attack sparked an Israeli invasion of the enclave of 2.3 million people that Gaza’s Health Ministry says has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians. Aid groups say the fighting has displaced most of the territory’s population and sparked a humanitarian catastrophe.
UNRWA, which employs roughly 13,000 people in Gaza, is the biggest aid provider in the enclave.
The allegations Monday were a significant escalation in the accusations against the agency. Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, Israel’s chief military spokesperson, did not provide names or other evidence to back up the vastly increased number of UNRWA employees it said were militants.
“Over 450 UNRWA employees are military operatives in terror groups in Gaza — 450. This is no mere coincidence. This is systematic. There is no claiming, ‘we did not know,’” Hagari said.
UNRWA in a statement accused Israel of detaining several of its staffers and forcing them, using torture and ill treatment, into giving false confessions about the links between the agency, Hamas and the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.
“These forced confessions as a result of torture are being used by the Israeli Authorities to further spread misinformation about the agency as part of attempts to dismantle UNRWA,” the statement said. “This is putting our staff in Gaza at risk and has serious implications on our operations in Gaza and around the region.’’
After Israel’s initial accusation against UNRWA, the agency fired the accused employees and more than a dozen countries suspended funding worth about $450 million, almost half its budget for the year.
Juliette Touma, director of communications for UNRWA, had no direct comment on the new Israeli allegations.
“UNRWA encourages any entity that has any information on the very serious allegations against UNRWA staff to share it with the ongoing UN investigation,” she said.
Two UN investigations into Israel’s allegations were already underway when the EU said Friday it will pay 50 million euros ($54 million) to UNRWA after the agency agreed to allow EU-appointed experts to audit the way it screens staff to identify extremists.
Hagari also released a recording of a call he said was of an UNRWA teacher describing his role in the Oct. 7 attack.
“We have female captives. I caught one,” the male voice is heard saying in Arabic. A man on a second call, alleged to be an Islamic Jihad militant who Israel also claimed was an UNRWA teacher, is heard saying “I’m inside with the Jews.”
The military named the men, though the man in the first call identified himself in the recording by a different name. The military said that name may have been a nickname. The military did not provide evidence as to their employment with UNRWA.
The accusations came as Benny Gantz, a top member of Israel’s wartime Cabinet, met with US officials in Washington while talks were underway in Egypt to broker a ceasefire in Gaza before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins next week.
Meanwhile, violence flared between Israel and Lebanon, amid inflamed tensions across the region.
An anti-tank missile fired into northern Israel from Lebanon killed a foreign worker and wounded seven others Monday, Israel’s Magen David Adom rescue service said. The Hezbollah militant group in Lebanon did not immediately claim responsibility for Monday’s strike.
Hours later an Israeli airstrike in southern Lebanon killed three paramedics from Hezbollah’s health arm, Lebanon’s state media said.
US envoy Amos Hochstein arrived in Beirut on Monday to meet with Lebanese officials in an attempt to tamp down tensions.
The near-daily clashes between Hezbollah and Israeli forces have killed more than 200 Hezbollah fighters and at least 37 civilians in Lebanon. Around 20 people have been killed on the Israeli side, including civilians and soldiers.


Hezbollah says 3 affiliated paramedics killed in Israel strike

Hezbollah says 3 affiliated paramedics killed in Israel strike
Updated 05 March 2024
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Hezbollah says 3 affiliated paramedics killed in Israel strike

Hezbollah says 3 affiliated paramedics killed in Israel strike
  • Hezbollah on Monday claimed several attacks on Israeli military positions, while local media reported Israeli attacks on a number of locations in south Lebanon

BEIRUT: Three paramedics affiliated with Hezbollah were killed in an Israeli strike on south Lebanon Monday, the group said, amid escalating cross-border hostilities in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war.
Israel and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have been exchanging near-daily fire since the day after the Israel-Hamas war erupted in October, raising fears all-out conflict could spread across the region.
The Hezbollah-affiliated Islamic Health Committee said three volunteers died “due to a direct Zionist attack on an emergency center” in south Lebanon’s Adaysseh.
The deaths came hours after Israeli medics said a missile strike on northern Israel killed a foreign worker and wounded seven others.
Lebanon’s health ministry condemned the Israeli raid “in the strongest terms” and called attacks on medical personnel “unacceptable,” in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency.
Hezbollah on Monday claimed several attacks on Israeli military positions, while local media reported Israeli attacks on a number of locations in south Lebanon.
The Israeli military said “numerous launches were identified crossing from Lebanon,” adding that it “struck the sources of the launches,” while “fighter jets struck a number of Hezbollah military compounds in southern Lebanon.”
Last month, two Islamic Health Committee paramedics and a Hezbollah fighter were killed in an Israeli strike on one of the organization’s centers in south Lebanon’s Blida, the group and a security source said at the time.
The Israeli army said it had struck a Hezbollah “military compound” in the village.
And in January, the Iran-backed militant group said an Israeli strike killed two Islamic Health Committee medics in the town of Hanin.
The Israeli army said it had struck Hezbollah targets, as well as “a number of areas in Lebanese territory.”
The fighting has killed at least 299 people in Lebanon, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 49 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
In Israel, at least 10 soldiers and seven civilians have been killed.