Israel on Saturday refused to heed a renewed request by the United Nations to stop its surveillance flights over Lebanon. Israel insists the flights are necessary to monitor violations of UN resolution 1701 to ensure that there are no armed terror groups in southern Lebanon. The international community, in turn, is of the opinion that the flights themselves are a violation of UN resolution 1701.
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"We have made strong protests to the Israelis regarding these violations. We have asked them to cease these actions, which are in violation of 1701," the United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Friday.
But an Israeli government official said that the flights are necessary because the international community has failed to ensure the full implementation of UN resolution 1701.
"The Israeli flights are not combat missions, they are only intelligence gathering missions," the official said. They are needed because there is no mechanism in place that can stop arms smuggling to Hizbullah along the Syrian Lebanese border. He added that the flights were also necessary because Hizbullah was still armed in southern Lebanon and Hizbullah had not released the two soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, whom they kidnapped last July.
But the head of the French-led U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon said on Friday that the overflights were dangerous. Incidents have been avoided only because of French military restraint, Gen. Alain Pellegrini said in an interview on the Internet site of the French conservative daily Le Figaro on Friday.
The overflights "could give the Hizbullah an occasion to react," Pellegrini was quoted as saying.
Asked if he excluded use of force against either party in the conflict, the general said: "No. I don't exclude it." He added, "I call on Israel to end them. I have a hard time understanding them ... This is dangerous."
Pellegrini dismissed Israeli argument that the flights were necessary.
"They want to see our activities on the ground and at sea. They don't trust us," he said, according to Le Figaro.
Pellegrini said Israel alleges there has been resurgence in Hizbullah military activity in the south, he said, adding that "for the moment" no such activity has been noted.
The French government demanded that Israel stop the raids after French
peacekeepers came within seconds of shooting down Israeli warplanes less than two weeks ago. Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie said a near-catastrophe was avoided. "At the end of October, we just escaped an incident when French soldiers felt threatened," Pellegrini reportedly said. "They have to assure their self-defense."
"There is a difference between the overflight of a plane at 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) altitude and an aircraft that goes into a quasi-attack configuration," he was quoted as saying. "If we avoided an incident, it's because the French military showed great restraint and sang-froid."
On October, 31, Israeli F-15 fighter planes nose-dived repeatedly over French peacekeepers' positions in southern Lebanon, the French defense minister said Wednesday.
Pellegrini, the French head of the peacekeepers, said there were currently 9,500 soldiers in the unit, and that 2,000 more were to arrive by the end of the month or early December.
AP contributed to this report.