UNITED NATIONS (AP) â€” Secretary General Kofi Annan appealed to UN member states to provide desperately needed UN peacekeeping troops for Lebanon and assured them the UN force would not â€œwage warâ€ on Israel, Lebanon, or Hizbollah fighters.
â€œIt is not expected to achieve by force what must be realised through negotiation and an internal Lebanese consensus,â€ Annan said in a report to the UN Security Council on implementation of the August 11 resolution calling for an end to the Israeli-Hizbollah conflict.
A key concern of many countries is whether the UN force will be called on to disarm Hizbollah fighters, as called for in a September 2004 UN resolution. They want to study the rules of engagement and concept of operations for the force, which were distributed Friday, before making a decision on troops.
Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown said countries needed to understand that the force would not be offensive.
â€œIt’s not going to go in there and attempt large-scale disarmament,â€ he said.
He appealed to European countries to contribute troops to an expanded UN force to balance the commitments from Muslim countries so that both Israel and Lebanon will view the troops as legitimate.
Malloch Brown welcomed Italy’s announcement that it will contribute, though it gave no numbers, and Finland’s pledge of 250 troops. But he stressed that more European nations are needed for the vanguard force of 3,500 troops that the UN wants on the ground by Aug. 28 to help ensure that the truce between Israel and Lebanon holds.
Annan expressed relief that the parties were generally complying with the cease-fire, and said he was encouraged â€œby the positive first steps.â€ â€œHowever, I would caution that the situation is still very fragile,â€ Annan said. â€œI call on all parties to do their utmost to ensure that the cessation of hostilities holds and to transform it into a durable ceasefire.â€ On Saturday, Israel said that commandos entered deep into Lebanese territory near Baalbek on what it said was an operation to disrupt â€œterror activity.â€ Hizbollah said it had repelled the Israeli troops.
Assuming the cessation of hostilities does hold, Annan said the next reinforcements for the UN force, up to 3,500 troops, are needed by October 5, and a third and final wave of up to 3,000 troops will be needed by November 4.
The UN resolution authorised up to 15,000 UN peacekeepers to help 15,000 Lebanese troops extend their authority into south Lebanon, which has been controlled by Hizbollah, as Israel withdraws its soldiers. The aim is to create a buffer zone free of Hizbollah fighters between the Litani River and the UN-drawn border, about 29 kilometres to the south.
Annan praised the first meeting in a decade of Israeli and Lebanese generals with the UN force commander and the positive start to Lebanon’s phased deployment and Israel’s phased withdrawal.
The Lebanese army has deployed more than 1,500 troops in three sectors that Israeli forces have left, and the UN force has set up checkpoints and started patrolling the areas, he said.
Annan told the council that the 2,000-strong UN force, known as UNIFIL, has reported â€œonly a handful of isolated violations of the cessation of hostilities since it came into effect.â€ In an incident Tuesday, he said, UN peacekeepers learned that Israeli forces and Hizbollah fighters had exchanged fire and dispatched patrols to the scene in the area of Haddathah in south Lebanon.
On Wednesday, an Israeli tank fired one round across the UN-drawn boundary into Lebanese territory towards the village of Markaba, Annan said.
â€œThere was no response from the other side and the situation in the area remains calm,â€ he said.
Every day, he said, UNIFIL has observed Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace at least once and up to four times. Annan called on the Lebanese and Israeli governments â€œto work resolutely towards a long-term solution and a permanent ceasefire.â€ â€œA reinforced UNIFIL is not going to wage war on any of the actors in the theater,â€ Annan said, and it cannot be â€œa substitute for a political process.â€