Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon: Hezbollah’s Shebaa raid violated Resolution 1701
Elise Knutsen/The Daily Star/Mar. 06, 2015
BEIRUT: Contrary to the Lebanese government’s position, the United Nations believes that Hezbollah violated Security Council Resolution 1701 when it attacked an Israeli convoy in the Shebaa Farms last month, a high-ranking U.N. official told The Daily Star. Hezbollah’s launching of anti-tank missiles from Lebanon, which resulted in the death of two Israeli soldiers, “constitutes a serious violation of the cessation of hostilities between Lebanon and Israel,” said Sigrid Kaag, the United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon. But Lebanese officials from both political coalitions insist Hezbollah did not in fact breach the resolution. Kaag spoke with Hezbollah during and after the crisis in January and the party told her that the attack on the Israeli convoy was “a carefully calibrated operation” that did not violate Resolution 1701.
She added that the most recent Security Council report on the implementation of 1701 which has not yet been made fully public addresses violations by both Hezbollah and Israel of the resolution. The report states that an investigation by UNIFIL found that the Israeli army had fired 20 white phosphorous mortar shells into Lebanon. Despite repeatedly claiming that the Israeli army will discontinue the use of white phosphorus, which is restricted by international law, the toxic gas is apparently still in use.
There is mounting concern that hostile language, “posturing, incidents or accidents” may inadvertently lead to a renewed conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, Kaag said. The international community has taken a “renewed interest” in Resolution 1701 and will “look at opportunities where progress may be possible or rather should happen,” Kaag said. She refused to specify, however, whether she would lobby for an official designation of the Shebaa Farms, which the U.N. claims is a disputed territory. When asked whether she would push for Israel’s withdrawal from the Lebanese village of Ghajar, Kaag replied that “stability” is valued by the parties involved.
Israel has occupied the entire village, half of which lies in Lebanese territory, since 2000. The United Nations has repeatedly urged the Israeli government to withdraw its troops from the village. But Kaag suggested that liberation was unlikely, at least for now, in order to maintain calm along the border. Kaag, who assumed the position of special coordinator in mid-January, said that the situation along Lebanon’s southern border figured among the topics she discussed with Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby on a trip to Cairo earlier this week.
“Obviously I wanted to have Dr. Nabil Elaraby’s take on the situation both on the south [and] eastern borders, a broader perspective so to speak,” Kaag told The Daily Star. The international community must continue to play an important role in helping Lebanon maintain stability, Kaag stressed. At the Humanitarian Pledging Conference for Syria, which will be held in Kuwait at the end of this month, Kaag will seek to “put Lebanon on the map again.” As the crisis enters its fifth year, “donor fatigue” is a serious concern, Kaag said, but Lebanon urgently needs international support to help manage the refugee crisis, which has had an adverse effect on the country’s economy and stability.
Moreover, if Syrian refugees are pushed to desperation some may follow “the path to radicalization and extremism.” International institutions are looking into new ways to keep Lebanon afloat financially, Kaag added. As a middle-income country with generally high social and development indicators but struggling with a refugee influx, the “financial architecture” of institutions like the World Bank needs to be flexible, she said. Echoing statements made by U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, Kaag condemned the partcipation of Lebanese citizens in the Syrian conflict. There is “tremendous concern” that the Syrian conflict might further spill over into Lebanon, she added. The presidential vacuum, she said “normalizes an erosion of the institutions as forseen by the Constitution and also by [the] Taif [Accord] … [which] cannot be good for Lebanon’s interests in the mid term or long term.”