south lebanon map UNIFIL.
(photo credit: UNIFIL)
The UN Security Council will reportedly reject an Israeli request to expand UNIFIL's mandate in southern Lebanon against Hizbullah. An official Security Council vote on the matter is scheduled to take place later Thursday, however, Israeli officials already asked European members of the Council how they intended to vote and they subsequently answered that they were against such a move, Army Radio reported Thursday morning.
Israel wants UNIFIL troops to be granted new rules of engagement against the guerilla group, in which the peacekeeping force would be given the green light to take a more 'proactive' role against Hizbullah and expand its field of operations from open areas to cities and towns. Israel also asked that UNIFIL troops be allowed to open fire against Hizbullah operatives, and not only after they are fired upon.
According to the report, the Security Council will reject the request due to safety concerns for its personnel on the ground in southern Lebanon. The mandate of the 13,600-strong UN peacekeeping force is due to expire at the end of August.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has already urged the Security Council to extend the mandate in a letter to the council president last week.
Ban said Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora had also asked to renew the force's mandate for a year.
Earlier in the week in Britain, The Telegraph reported that Hizbullah was paying exorbitant prices to buy up large areas from Christian and Druse owners on the northern bank of the Litani River in southern Lebanon, where its fighters were then fortifying positions and stock-piling missiles in anticipation of a second round of hostilities with Israel. This was taking place, according to the report, just beyond the reach of UNIFIL patrols.
The northern bank of the Litani is within 16 kilometers of Israeli border communities, which are well within the range of Hizbullah's replenished arsenal of Katyusha rockets. The strategic valleys and rugged hilltops on the northern bank - well suited to Hizbullah's brand of guerrilla fighting - are just beyond the jurisdiction of the UN peacekeeping force sent to patrol south of the Litani as part of a cease-fire agreement that ended last summer's war.
With Herb Keinon and Josh Brannon