The head of Lebanon’s powerful Shia armed group Hezbollah warned on Monday evening against renewing on the same terms the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping force in the country’s south.
The mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, which expires Thursday, was extended last year with a slight modification that Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah criticized at the time as “a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.”
He did so again on Monday.
“A foreign armed force that moves on Lebanese territory without authorization of the government and Lebanese army, without coordination with the Lebanese army, where is the sovereignty in all that?” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
Under the modified mandate the peacekeeping force “is allowed to conduct its operations independently,” the UN resolution said.
The Security Council on Wednesday is to meet on extending UNIFIL’s mandate.
UNIFIL was first deployed more than four decades ago. It has routinely coordinated patrols and movements in its area of operations in the south with the Lebanese army.
But Lebanon’s government has also objected to the absence, in the UN resolution, of a stipulation that such coordination takes place.
On Monday, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib met in New York with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to convey Lebanon’s position, the country’s official ANI news service said.
UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli forces after they invaded Lebanon in reprisal for a Palestinian attack.
It was beefed up in 2006 after Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war, and the force, with more than 10,000 troops and naval personnel, is tasked with monitoring a ceasefire between the two sides.
Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war.
In December an Irish soldier with UNIFIL was killed and three colleagues wounded when their convoy came under fire in south Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, near the Israeli border.
Days later Hezbollah handed over to Lebanese authorities a man suspected of being the main suspect, a security official said at the time. Hezbollah denied involvement in the killing of Private Sean Rooney, 23.
Considered a “terrorist” organisation by many Western governments, Hezbollah is the only side not to have disarmed following Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, and it is also a powerful player in Lebanese politics.