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A 21-page document leaked to the French newspaper Le Monde has provided new details about what the rules of engagement for an expanded UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon might look like.
The document is a copy of the proposed rules that were distributed last week at the UN to dozens of potential troop-contributing countries.
Troops would be allowed to use "deadly force" in order to impose the August 11 cease-fire resolution, according to these rules. They would also be mandated to defend themselves, protect civilians and - most critically for the Israelis - provide backup for the Lebanese Army in its effort to stop Hizbullah-bound arms from leaking over the Syrian border.
Settling on rules of engagement has been a critical part of putting together the new UNIFIL force, and one of the greatest obstacles in its path. According to UN officials, some countries, like France, did not want the rules to include forcibly disarming Hizbullah. Other countries were worried about sending troops without strong enough of a mandate.
These officials say the draft rules distributed last week are the closest they have gotten to a consensus position among the countries that are serious about contributing to the force.
The proposed rules seem to strike a middle ground. Though "predominantly defensive in nature," the draft rules mandate "use of force, up to and including deadly force, while assisting the government of Lebanon, at its request to secure its borders and other points of entry to prevent the entry into Lebanon, without its consent, of foreign forces, arms or related material." This falls just short of confronting Hizbullah head-on, but still has the potential to set up a clash between UNIFIL and the militia.
According to UN officials involved in the negotiations, the UN has received commitments of 3,500 troops for the force, though these are almost all from Muslim countries, some of which do not recognize Israel.
As for the Europeans, France has disappointed many at the UN, officials report, because of its failure to live up to its promise of thousands of troops. So far it has only committed 200 soldiers and 200 engineers to be part of the mission.
But as the Associated Press reported yesterday, the French might be reconsidering this position after Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's pledge of 3,000 troops earlier this week. A high-level meeting to take place Thursday between Jacques Chirac and his foreign and defense ministers might produce more of a commitment.
The initial cease-fire resolution, 1701, called for 15,000 UN peacekeepers and another 15,000 Lebanese army troops to deploy to southern Lebanon. This was to happen as Israeli troops withdraw. The new UN force, an expanded version of the blue-helmeted UNIFIL already in place, was also authorized to help the Lebanese army create a buffer zone in the south. It was also instructed to secure Lebanon's border with Syria to prevent arms smuggling.
John Bolton, the American ambassador to the UN, said on Monday that the difficulties with establishing rules of engagement might stem from the compromises made to appease the Lebanese when the final version of the cease-fire resolution was drafted.
"You'll recall the original American position was we wanted a very robust multinational force, not even under UN command. The government of Lebanon made it clear they did not want a multinational force, they did not want a Chapter 7 mandate," he said, referring to the part of the UN charter that would give a peacekeeping force robust enforcement capabilities. "They wanted pretty much what Resolution 1701 provides," he added.
"So those are the circumstances in which we're operating, and that was known to all of the cosponsors of the resolution at the time it was adopted," Bolton said.
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