Asarta Cuevas 311.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A number of recent clashes between United Nations soldiers in southern Lebanon and local villagers could lead to an escalation along the Israeli-Lebanese border as Hizbullah works to prevent peacekeepers from implementing Security Council Resolution 1701.
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On Saturday, two UNIFIL vehicles, including an armored personnel carrier, were blocked by a large group of civilians as the convoy traveled on a road north of the southern Lebanese village of Kabrikha. Stones were also thrown at UNIFIL forces in another village on Saturday.
The civilians stoned the patrol, which decided to leave the scene, hitting a motorcycle that had been parked blocking the road. The crowd then surrounded the patrol, punctured the vehicles’ tires, smashed the windows, and tried grabbing weapons mounted on the vehicles. In response, the soldiers, from the French Battalion, fired warning shots in the air.
The commander of the patrol was attacked and his weapon was stolen. A group of civilians took him to a nearby home where he received medical treatment, UNIFIL said in a statement.
UNIFIL reinforcements and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) troops arrived at
the scene, recovered the weapons and restored calm.
UNIFIL Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas called on the
LAF to ensure the security of UNIFIL forces. “It is incumbent on the
Lebanese authorities to ensure the security and freedom of movement for
UNIFIL within its area of operation,” Cuevas said.
Israeli defense officials say villagers affiliated with
Saturday’s clashes were the latest in a series of attacks against UNIFIL
troops in southern Lebanon in recent weeks. Last Tuesday, residents of
Kfar Kila hurled stones at UN vehicles. In the village of Hirbeit Sleim,
where a Hizbullah arms cache hidden inside a home blew up last year,
residents held a massive protest calling for an end to UNIFIL patrols in
Israeli defense officials said that the escalation in violence was due
to increased UNIFIL activity throughout southern Lebanon since Cuevas, a
Spanish officer, took command of the peacekeeping force in January. The
officials also said that the so-called villagers who attacked the
peacekeepers were likely affiliated with Hizbullah.
“UNIFIL has been doing more in recent months,” one Israeli defense
official said. “Hizbullah is not happy with this and is trying to deter
the peacekeepers from entering the villages which is home to most of
their arms caches these days.”
The attacks came just ahead of the fourth anniversary of the Second
Lebanon War, following which UNIFIL was beefed up to its present force
of about 13,000.