UN mulls expanding Israel-Lebanon buffer zone

Diplomats at the UN have disclosed that current discussions are focusing on widening the buffer zone between Lebanon and Israel, in a bid to reduce Israel and Hezbollah’s border violence, according to Asharq Al-Awsat plus agencies on March 21st.

A vicious border conflict has been raging between Israel and Hezbollah since October 8th, with daily hostilities resulting in approximately 91,000 Lebanese citizens displaced and the deaths of 56 civilians.

During a confidential UN Security Council meeting on Tuesday, discussions centred around the latest report by Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and attempts to enforce the UN Resolution 1701 against Israel and Hezbollah. UN Resolution 1701 was previously successful in ceasing the one-month war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

This meeting comes in the face of growing concerns for hostilities escalating further along the Blue Line.

The past months have seen an increased intensity in fighting, with two Israeli airstrikes targeting a small town in southern Lebanon, Ghaziyeh on February 19th. Located 30km away from the border, the attack killed 10 people, including 5 children.

Israel has also recently set out to deploy its specialist mountain brigade, Heharim, to the Lebanese border.

Against this backdrop, one diplomat at the Security Council meeting reported “we are gravely concerned about the situation on the border”, cautioning against any “provocations that could aggravate things further”. Guterres also expressed the need to find a political approach addressing the key root of the conflict, citing the threat to the stability of Israel, Lebanon, and the wider region.

The meeting also discussed supporting the role of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in attempting to navigate widening the buffer zone. Numbering over 10,000 peacekeepers, UNIFIL has worked as a critical mediator to prevent further escalation and support a peaceful resolution. The meeting also reportedly focused on strengthening the role of the Lebanese Armed forces in de-escalating the situation. Doing so would facilitate the return of thousands of residents on both sides of the border.

UNIFIL have reported that since October 21st to February 20th Israel has fired 7,948 projectiles into Lebanon, compared to Hezbollah and its allies firing a total of 978 projectiles.

The diplomats’ calls for a buffer zone follow UNIFIL’s statement on March 19th calling for all parties to the conflict to abide by UN Resolution 1701 and avoid further escalation. On the 46th anniversary of the peacekeeping force’s establishment, UNIFIL Commander Aroldo Lázar cautioned the need to “work toward de-escalation in the short term, and peace in the long term”.

READ: UN Mission renew appeals for calm in Lebanon

In addition to the conflict’s mass displacement of citizens on both sides of the border, it is increasingly becoming a costly venture. The Lebanese government has announced a compensation plan, granting $20,000 to each victim’s family, and $40,000 for those with destroyed houses.

This was similarly matched with Hezbollah’s own promise to compensate border residents in the face of total devastation.

READ: Lebanon PM Promises compensation for Israel strikes

However, representatives of the UN countries involved in the Security Council meeting articulated that UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces’ success in controlling the region relies upon Lebanon overcoming several political obstacles. This includes the election of a new president and creation of a new government prepared to introduce much-needed economic reforms addressing the country’s economic crisis.

Asharq Al-Awsat/agencies





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