amir peretz 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Thursday promised aggressive action against pro-Hizbullah Lebanese rioting along the northern border, just hours after a group of demonstrators gathered north of Metulla and hurled stones at IDF troops.
The soldiers did not respond and instead the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) dispersed the crowd and even arrested two of the demonstrators who tried climbing the border fence.
"We will respond harshly to provocations along the border," Peretz said as he toured the Northern Command Thursday afternoon, adding that the IDF would need to drill the new coordination mechanism set up with UNIFIL to see if the peacekeeping force was effective in preventing Hizbullah attacks and provocations.
On Wednesday, a member of the IDF General Staff said that if soldiers felt threatened by Lebanese demonstrators along the northern border, they would be allowed to open fire in self-defense. According to the officer, the IDF Operations Directorate has drawn up new orders for forces operating there.
Meanwhile Thursday, Israeli defense officials said they hoped to reach an agreement with UNIFIL regarding the removal of an IDF presence from the town of Ghajar, split in half by the international border between Israel and Lebanon. Since the withdrawal from Lebanon earlier this week, the IDF has kept forces inside the northern section of Ghajar until UNIFIL and the LAF take up positions nearby.
UNIFIL also announced that it plans to reach half its strength by mid-October, almost two months after a cease-fire went into effect and ended the month-long war between Israel and Hizbullah.
Turkey also became the first Muslim country to send troops to participate in the multinational force after announcing that 260 military engineers would fly to Lebanon next week.
German warships with up to 2,400 personnel aboard anchored at Cyprus on Thursday with plans to sail to Lebanon and take charge of the multinational naval force tasked with preventing arms shipments to Hizbullah.
Together, those deployments would bring the force's strength, currently at 5,200 troops, to 8,000. The UN cease-fire resolution authorized the force to reach a maximum of 15,000. But as the UN builds up, some worry that the more-robust UNIFIL and its declared willingness to use force will cause more tensions with Hizbullah. The group has insisted that its guerrillas were still ready and armed along the Israeli border.
The UN force says its members are in Lebanon as peacekeepers and do not aim to disarm Hizbullah. "We're a peacekeeping force," said Alexander Ivanko, spokesman for UNIFIL. "Our priority is to defuse potential hostile situations without the use of force. But we have the means to use it."
Earlier this week, the peacekeeping force signaled a new strategy in south Lebanon, outlining its rules of engagement and saying it could use force beyond self-defense to maintain peace.