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Sunday's terror attack against UNIFIL's Spanish contingent and last week's firing of Katyusha rockets at Kiryat Shmona underscored the need for immediate changes to the peacekeeping force's mandate, senior defense officials said Monday.
On Sunday, six United Nations peacekeepers were killed and two others seriously wounded when a bomb struck their armored patrol vehicle as they drove on the main road between the towns of Marjayoun and al-Hiyam, a few kilometers north of Metulla.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the bombing but the majority anti-Syrian coalition in the Lebanese parliament blamed Damascus, despite its condemnation of the bombing. Israeli defense officials said they suspected the attack was perpetrated by a group affiliated with al-Qaida, possibly even Fatah al-Islam - a Palestinian terror group that has been clashing with the Lebanese Army near Tripoli for the past five weeks.
Israeli defense officials said that recent events in southern Lebanon - Sunday's attack and last week's Katyusha fire - proved that UNIFIL needed a stronger mandate and one that would enable it to better counter the growing threats it faced.
UNIFIL's mandate will be up for approval at the UN in August and officials said that recent events highlighted the need for changes.
"UNIFIL needs to have more capabilities and a mandate that allows it to crack down harder on armed militias in Lebanon," an official said.
"Otherwise these types of attacks will unfortunately continue to happen."
Some immediate changes that Israel would like to see to the mandate include the deployment of UNIFIL along the Syrian-Lebanese border to stop the rearmament of Hizbullah; a decision to allow UNIFIL troops to raid and inspect urban areas and private homes; and even changing the mandate from Chapter 6 to Chapter 7 which would allow the force to more forcefully engage Hizbullah.
Following a special meeting Monday, the Lebanese cabinet issued a statement saying the bombing was an attack on Lebanon's security and stability and posed a challenge to the international community.
"We call on all the international community to help Lebanon because it is not permissible for Lebanon to be left alone," Information Minister Ghazi Aridi said. "The collapse of this situation in Lebanon will lead to a collapse of the situation in all states in the region."
UNIFIL commander Maj.-Gen. Claudio Graziano called the attack the "most serious incident" since the end of the Hizbullah-Israel war, saying "the perpetrators not only targeted UNIFIL but peace and security in the area." Graziano added that UNIFIL "remains committed more than ever to its mission," according to a UNIFIL statement.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack Monday and called for a full investigation. He stressed his hopes that the Lebanese government will "succeed in its efforts to bring to justice those responsible." He also noted the "fragility" of the situation in Lebanon and reiterated the importance of UNIFIL's mandate for stability in the area.
"Targeting of UNIFIL is in fact an attempt to undermine peace and security in the region and in particular the Lebanese and international efforts to stabilize the situation in Southern Lebanon within the framework of UN Security Council Resolution 1701," he said.
Ban extended his sincere condolences and reiterated his support to the UNIFIL troops in their "unwavering commitment to fulfill their mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1701 in close collaboration with the army and authorities of Lebanon."
Michal Lando and AP contributed to the report.
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