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Israel is working through diplomatic channels to insert some changes in the UNIFIL mandate in Lebanon to make sure that international forces in the South patrol more in urban areas, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
The mandate of the 13,600-strong UN peacekeeping force is due to expire at the end of August, and the Security Council is scheduled to discuss renewing the mandate on August 16.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged the Security Council to extend the mandate in a letter to the council president on Monday. Ban said Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had asked to renew the force's mandate for a year.
Israel has also made clear it is in favor of renewing the mandate, though it would like to see "some improvements." While Israel believes the forces are operating well in the open areas in southern Lebanon, Jerusalem is keen on seeing UNIFIL establish more of a presence in the cities and towns there and take a more "proactive" role.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in a speech to graduates of the National Security College two weeks ago, said the performance of the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon since the Second Lebanon War had shown that an international force could be effective, given the right mandate and the right make-up of forces.
Olmert said the German, Italian and French forces had been much more effective in southern Lebanon than forces from Muslim states, such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Ban, in his letter to the Security Council president, praised the troops for helping to establish security in southern Lebanon following last summer's war. The force is comprised of 11,428 ground troops, 2,000 maritime personnel, 185 staff officers and 20 local staffers.
"The swift and effective deployment of UNIFIL has helped to establish a new strategic military and security environment in southern Lebanon," Ban wrote.
The peacekeepers from 30 countries that make up the land and maritime forces and the "strong peacekeeping partnership with the Lebanese armed forces" have made it possible to implement several key aspects of the resolution that ended the war, he wrote. In addition to the UNIFIL forces, there are also some 15,000 Lebanese troops in southern Lebanon.
But Ban said "recent events have tragically shown that much work remains to be done." He cited "the vicious attack" on June 24 that killed six peacekeepers belonging to the Spanish contingent whose armored personnel carrier in southern Lebanon was struck by a bomb. It was the first such attack against UNIFIL.
And in early July, a roadside bomb struck a UN jeep near Tyre, but there were no casualties. Ban also cited the firing of rockets into Israel on June 17, which caused no casualties and little damage but demonstrated the continuing volatility of the border region.
Ban reiterated that as a result of these attacks, the United Nations "will not be deterred from implementing its Security Council-mandated activities," including negotiations on critical issues between the parties.
"At the same time," he wrote, "the attacks on UNIFIL have changed the security environment in which the mission operates in Lebanon." In an effort to increase protection for the UN force and civilian staff, Ban said the mission will continue to strengthen its cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces and will also require additional "risk mitigation assets."
UN officials said these include explosive detectors, jammers on vehicles, and material and equipment to conduct investigations.
AP contributed to this article