Lebanon's opposition warns against amending UNIFIL rules

The Lebanese opposition, which is led by the Shiite Hezbollah movement, warned Thursday against amending the UN rules of engagement in southern Lebanon. ( dpa )

The opposition was responding to a statement made by Italy's incoming premier Silvio Berlusconi who said that rules of engagement for Italy's troops serving with a UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon should be reviewed.

According to the opposition statement, changing the rules would transform the UN mission into an "occupation force."

The stance was clearly outlined in a statement issued after a meeting by representatives of factions allied within the Hezbollah- led opposition.

The opposition "warns against any change or amendment of UNSCR 1701, especially the rules of engagement that set UNIFIL's jurisdiction and its relation with the Lebanese Army," the statement said.

"Any amendment would give the international forces the jurisdiction to use force and erect checkpoints outside its area of deployment," the statement added.

"That would transcend on the Lebanese Army's authorities and would change these forces' mandate from observing implementation of resolution 1701 to occupation forces."

Earlier, Lebanese sources described as "most dangerous" comments by Berlusconi regarding the UN mission in Lebanon.

The sources said they could not ignore Berlusconi's statement and that it was "most dangerous that he isn't satisfied about the current situation for these troops."

Berlusconi announced Wednesday that he would be reviewing the rules of engagement, saying the Italian troops in Lebanon could not react to situations.

The newly elected prime minister assured reporters in Rome that Italy would still keep its 2,500-strong presence in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), the largest contingent of any contributing nation.

Meanwhile, a source close to Lebanese Premier Fouad Seniora said he called Berlusconi late Wednesday "to congratulate him on his victory in Italy's election."

"During the conversation, Berlusconi stressed (the need for) continuing to adopt the same policies in Lebanon and support Lebanon's democratic government," the source said.

The source stressed that the two leaders "did not discuss or mention" the new rules of engagement of Italian troops in Lebanon which Berlusconi spoke about in his press conference Wednesday in Rome.

There are 13,000 UN troops in Lebanon as part of UN resolution 1701 that ended just over a month of fighting between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006, but the precise circumstances defining their use of force and rules of engagement are secret.

An amendment to the rules of engagement could mean giving UNIFIL the right to establish checkpoints and inspect cars in southern Lebanon where the Lebanese Army is now in charge.

Germany has just handed over command of UNIFIL's Maritime Task Force to the European Maritime Force currently headed by Italy.

In patrolling Lebanon's 200 kilometres of coastline, Italy now carries prime responsibility for preventing Iranian weapons reaching Hezbollah by sea.

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