Israel wants Unifil pulled out

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The Independent Online
With the Security Council locked in negotiations yesterday on the fate of a United Nations report suggesting that Israeli forces deliberately bombed a UN camp in Lebanon last month, Israel formally raised scrapping the UN buffer force in Lebanon, Unifil, when its current mandate expires in July.

Israel's ambassador to the UN, David Peleg, asked the Security Council to consider disbanding Unifil (the UN Interim Force in Lebanon). "We call on the 15 members of the Security Council to carefully reconsider their position on the continued mandate of this force," he said.

Israel has been issuing veiled warnings about its stance towards Unifil since the publication earlier this week of the report which cast grave doubt on Israeli claims that the 18 April bombardment of the Qana camp, that left more than 100 civilians dead, was accidental. But diplomats were taken aback by the directness of Mr Peleg's remarks about the force's future yesterday.

Israel is basing its complaint on evidence, also mentioned in the report, that Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon have been taking refuge in Unifil compounds.

"Unifil is becoming part of the hostile territory, so we will have to see how to deal with it," Mr Peleg said in a radio interview.

Because it is not on the Security Council, Israel has no direct say on the future of the buffer force that was first deployed in 1978. But the United States will not ignore any Israeli submissions and UN officials were doubtful whether Unifil could have any useful future without Israeli co-operation on the ground.

"I would think not," remarked Sylvana Foa, the UN spokeswoman. "We have a hotline to the Israelis, but we don't have one to Hizbollah."

Sources close to the Security Council said it was too soon to give consideration to the Israeli intervention, if only because members still had to find their way through a thicket of opposing emotions in deciding how to respond to the report on the Qana incident.

Egypt, the only Arab nation on the council, was expected to push hard yesterday for the adoption of a formal resolution condemning Israel for the attack and demanding financial compensation.

Behind the scenes, Egypt was being pushed hard to stick with this position by Lebanon and Syria.

Most Western diplomats believed that Egypt was on a hiding to nothing, however, because a slim majority of members was likely to abstain on the resolution, in deference particularly to American wishes that the whole Qana affair be buried as soon as possible.

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