The world must stop the rearming of Hizbullah if it wants to see stability in the region, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni told UN special envoy Michael Williams on Monday. Williams is in the region to assess compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended last summer's war in Lebanon.
Israel has been saying for months that arms are being smuggled across the Lebanese-Syrian border to Hizbullah, while Western diplomatic officials have said Israel has not provided intelligence information to prove it.
UNIFIL's presence in southern Lebanon and the IDF's continued operations along the northern border have hampered Hizbullah's efforts to rearm and rebuild its forces. But the group has continued to attempt to smuggle in weapons and train fighters.
Officers in Northern Command told Vice Premier Shimon Peres last week that weapons reach Hizbullah from Syria "on a weekly basis," usually at night, evading UNIFIL peacekeepers.
Earlier this month, several bombs disguised as boulders were found along the northern border, raising doubts about the IDF's and UNIFIL's ability to prevent Hizbullah from attacking Israel.
This is Williams's third visit to the region since the war ended. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is to report about compliance with the resolution to the Security Council next month.
IDF officers took part in meetings with Williams, and reportedly gave him information showing where the smuggling was taking place, how it was being done and what was being smuggled.
The IDF officers reportedly said there had been an improvement in UNIFIL's performance in south Lebanon under the new Italian leadership, but the force was still not doing anything to stop the arms smuggling and could be taking a higher profile in the South.
The disagreements over IDF overflights reportedly were resolved and there was greater coordination between the IDF and UNIFIL on this matter.
Hizbullah is building up reinforcements north of the Litani River in anticipation of another potential war with Israel, The Times of London reported Monday.
According to the report, Hizbullah guerrillas have begun to gather in the area, which is just outside the area patrolled by UNIFIL troops, with the apparent aim of creating a Shi'ite-controlled buffer zone that would allow the organization to avoid notice while they build their forces.
Hizbullah is reportedly being aided in its enterprise by Shi'ite businessman Ali Tajiddine, a diamond trader with close ties to Hizbullah, who has begun buying large tracts of land from their Christian and Druse owners to serve as Hizbullah's base of operations.
"The state of Hizbullah is already in existence in south Lebanon," Druse Lebanese MP Walid Jumblatt was quoted as saying.
"Even if Hizbullah is concentrating itself further north in Lebanon," Livni said, "it is still representing Iranian interests and will continue to cause instability in the rest of Lebanon and in the entire region."
She said the UN and the international community must show determination in bringing about the release of captured IDF soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and in implementing the arms embargo on Hizbullah - two of the unfulfilled elements of the UN Security Council resolution.
Meanwhile, diplomatic officials denied that there were any plans for another meeting between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in two weeks. Abbas was quoted in Cairo as saying that such a meeting was in the works.
Both Israeli and US officials said it was unlikely that there would be another Olmert-Abbas meeting until after the establishment of a PA unity government.
The possibility of future Olmert-Abbas talks is likely to come up Tuesday during meetings that European Commissioner for External Relations and Neighborhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner is scheduled to hold in Jerusalem. Ferrero-Waldner met with Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Monday night and is scheduled to meet Olmert and Livni on Tuesday. She is to hold talks with PA officials on Wednesday.
Shani Rosenfelder contributed to this report.