Israel should abide by U.N. Resolution 1701

by Cesar Chelala

Claudio Graziano, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) recently stated that Israel is violating the tenets of U.N. Resolution 1701 by flying over Lebanon, refusing to help remove unexploded cluster bombs fired during the second Lebanon war of July-August of 2006, and failing to withdraw from Lebanon’s Al Ghajar village.

By contrast, Graziano said Hezbollah accepted Resolution 1701 and is abiding by it, and stressed that UNIFIL has developed an excellent collaboration with Hezbollah and local Lebanese. Israel, however, has been accused of violating Lebanon’s air space on several occasions.

UNIFIL is deployed in southern Lebanon (south of Litani River), mainly along the United Nations-drawn Blue Line, which is the border between Lebanon and Israel. UNIFIL is in charge of monitoring military activity from Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), aimed at reducing tensions along that border.

UNIFIL has an important role in clearing land mines, assisting displaced people and providing humanitarian assistance to civilians in the underdeveloped region of southern Lebanon. According to U.N. Resolution 1701, UNIFIL can “take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and, as its capabilities deem, ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind.”

Graziano stated that apart from U.N. troops, Lebanese soldiers and hunters, no one was armed south of the Litani River, according to U.N. Resolution 1701. He also said that UNIFIL had been successful in carrying out its mandate to maintain the ceasefire that went into effect in 2006, stressing that the group’s presence was vital in maintaining stability in that region.

Graziano complained that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak refuses to meet with him to discuss the situation in the Israel/Lebanon’s border area and on the best way to implement Resolution 1701. Barak has opposed that resolution from the start and has repeatedly stated that it underscores a serious miscalculation by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tsipi Livni.

Israel is also accused of refusing to help remove unexploded cluster bombs remaining in southern Lebanon after the second Lebanon war, and refusing also to provide maps with their precise location. Israeli cluster bombs have killed 27 civilians and 13 mine clearers in southern Lebanon since the war ended in August 2006, according to the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center.

According to Human Rights Watch, Israel rained as many as 4.6 million submunitions across southern Lebanon in at least 962 separate strikes. This estimate is based on information provided by soldiers who fired cluster munitions from Multiple Launch Rocket Systems. Because these submunitions that are released by cluster bombs affect a wide area, they virtually guarantee civilian casualties when they are used in populated areas. Also, because they don’t always explode on impact, they may cause civilian casualties for years to come.

Many of the attacks on Lebanese populated areas didn’t appear to have a specific military target, according to research carried out by Human Rights Watch. Israel’s Winograd Commission stated in its report on the Lebanon war, “Our main concern is the vagueness existing in the army throughout the war and continuing today concerning the legality of the use of cluster munitions and the conditions necessary for such use.” And the report also critiqued the lack of “operational discipline, control and oversight” in the army’s deployment of weapons in civilian areas.

Lebanon’s U.N. ambassador, Nawaf Salam, also criticized the Israeli occupation of the region north of Al Ghajar and the Shebaa Farms, which can be considered violations of Resolution 1701 because it contributes to maintaining tensions.

If Israel is truly interested in reaching a lasting peace with Lebanon it should start by resolving these three outstanding issues. As Carlos Duguech, director of the radio program Peace in the World, told me recently, “Lebanon should stop being an internecine battlefield and become the peaceful country that it deserves to be.”

Cesar Chelala is a cowinner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.