|France pushes UN resolution to extend UNIFIL's mandate
|Germany extends naval presence for one year
France introduced to the UN Security Council on Tuesday a draft resolution to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, UN diplomats reported.
The French draft resolution seeks to extend the present mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which expires on August 31st, for an additional year.
The resolution commended the "positive role" of UNIFIL, saying its deployment together with the Lebanese Army has helped to "establish a new strategic environment in southern Lebanon."
The resolution also appeals "to all parties concerned" to "respect the cessation of hostilities and the Blue Line in its entirety."
It also urges parties to "fully" cooperate with the Security Council and the UN secretary general to achieve "a permanent cease-fire and a long term solution."
The resolution "emphasizes the need for greater progress in this regard."
The UN peacekeeping force first deployed to South Lebanon in 1978. It currently has 13,500 troops along with 1,000 civilian employees, compared to only 2,000 troops before 2006.
UNIFIL monitors the separation of forces following the summer 2006 war with Israel.
The force also helps the Lebanese Army deploy in the South, and makes sure humanitarian assistance reaches civilians.
Following on France's footsteps, the German Cabinet on Wednesday approved a one-year extension to the country's role in the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, where it has led naval patrols off the coast.
The Cabinet decided to extend the German military's mandate until September 15, 2008, at its regular weekly meeting. The extension still requires approval by Parliament, which is expected to vote in mid-September.
Eight German ships joined the UNIFIL mission last year in Germany's largest naval deployment since World War II. It currently has 960 sailors with the mission, designed to prevent arms from reaching Hizbullah by sea.
Chancellor Angela Merkel's government ruled out sending combat troops to try to ensure that German soldiers would not get caught up in any confrontation with Israeli forces.
Government spokesman Thomas Steg said the deployment so far had not resulted in weapons being intercepted.
Steg said that, under the new mandate, the maximum number of German sailors authorized to take part would be reduced to 1,400 from 2,400. He noted that Germany never reached the current limit, and said it was only adapting the limit "to the actual needs."
Steg said Germany was prepared to continue leading the mission until late February, but was asking the UN to find another leader after that date. Other countries involved in the patrols include Greece, Turkey and Norway.
The head of the German Parliament's foreign affairs committee said the mission has been a success.
"That little incidents have happened is a sign that the deployment is successful," Ruprecht Polenz, a member of Merkel's Christian Democrats, said on local German radio.
"The mission works preventively as well - potential weapons smugglers know they barely have any chance of smuggling weapons into Lebanon by sea," Polenz added.
Also related to developments in the south of Lebanon, the Jerusalem Post reported on Wednesday that the UN has decided to send a cartographer within the next month to visit the occupied Shebaa Farms.
According to the daily, Israel is vehemently opposed to the UN's initiative to redraw Israel's border with Lebanon.
Israel contends that it conquered the area located between Lebanon and the Golan Heights, from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967.
"In the past, the United States and France have pressured Israel to concede the territory as a gesture to bolster Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora," the newspaper said.
However, Israeli defense officials have warned against ceding the area to Lebanon.
"If the border is changed, then this could be dangerous for Israel's national security," the paper quoted a senior official as saying.
The UN decision comes in the wake of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other top officials' frequent expressions of concern about the Israeli Army's inadequate state. Officials have been meeting with greater frequency to discuss methods for improving the country's defenses.
According to another Israeli daily, Haaretz, Barak had warned that "Israel is currently at less than half the maximum order of battle it had in the past."
"A military force is not merely hardware and technology, but first of all confidence and fighting spirit. There is no military force without training," he said.
The Daily Star