Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Impending UNIFIL breakdown in Lebanon

Yaakov Katz , THE JERUSALEM POST, Feb. 19, 2008:

With Lebanon in political deadlock and Hizbullah threatening to renew hostilities with Israel, defense officials in Tel Aviv expressed concern on Monday that European countries will gradually reduce their participation in UNIFIL over the coming year.

A high-ranking defense official told The Jerusalem Post that Israel had indications Spain was considering withdrawing its forces from Lebanon. Spanish peacekeepers have come under repeated attacks by terrorist groups in southern Lebanon and in July, six members of the Spanish contingent were killed in an attack on their convoy near the village of el-Hiyam.
The official said that due to the attacks, Spain was under growing pressure to withdraw its troops from Lebanon, in the same way it pulled out of Iraq in 2004 following the Madrid terrorist bombings earlier that year. The official said the outcome of the national elections in Spain next month could determine whether the country would continue to participate in UNIFIL....

....UNIFIL was significantly enlarged - from 2,000 soldiers to more than 13,000 - following the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The official said that if war broke out with Hizbullah due to the assassination of arch-terrorist Imad Mughniyeh in Damascus last week, UNIFIL would be expected to immediately withdraw its forces from southern Lebanon....

....Adding to Israel's concern is the continued political deadlock in Lebanon over the appointment of a new president since Emile Lahoud stepped down three months ago. According to a new proposal, Hizbullah could get a third of the cabinet seats, granting it the power to veto major government decisions, including the renewal of UNIFIL's mandate later this year.....

Mark Weiss and AP contributed to this report.

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