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Thursday, July 12, 2007

UNIFIL getting chummy with Hezbollah again

From Time:
After the war in south Lebanon last summer, the small United Nations peacekeeping mission here was bolstered by the arrival of thousands of crack European troops determined to keep Hizballah fighters away from the border with Israel. A year on, however, and some of those same European contingents are now seeking the cooperation of the Iran-backed Hizballah to help protect them from Al-Qaeda-inspired militants....

Sources tell TIME that, since the [June 24th bombing] attack, there have been discreet contacts between some UNIFIL contingents and Hizballah representatives. UNIFIL is supposed to confine liaison to the Lebanese army, and Graziano said that direct contacts between UNIFIL troops and Hizballah, or any other Lebanese political party, was "highly forbidden". But keeping some type of contact may be critical to UNIFIL's mission. The goal of the informal communications is partly to harness Hizballah's local intelligence gathering abilities, but also to ensure that the powerful Shi'ite group remains supportive of UNIFIL. The unspoken fear among some peacekeepers is that although Hizballah strongly denounced the bombing, it may have known of the attack beforehand or may even have been involved, which, if true, would have dire repercussions on UNIFIL's future. "I cannot dismiss that at a national level there is a diplomatic relation [between troop contributing states and Hizballah] but that has nothing to do with the United Nations," Graziano said. "If somebody [in UNIFIL] does have a relation [with Hizballah] it's against my will."

Nonetheless, a Hizballah official in south Lebanon confirmed to TIME that there was at least one meeting between Spanish UNIFIL officers and Hizballah representatives after the bomb attack. Furthermore, Hizballah officials have met with Spanish diplomats in Beirut and the Madrid government is believed to have held talks with Iran, Hizballah's patron, on the safety of its peacekeepers. At least one other European contingent enjoys regular direct contact with Hizballah, finessing Graziano's order by using a civilian advisor who was hired outside the UNIFIL framework.


To sum it up: Hezbollah was always dead-set against UNIFIL's expanded presence under UN Resolution 1701. UNIFIL is forbidden to have contacts with Hezbollah.

And the goal of the forbidden talks is to keep Hezbollah "supportive" of UNIFIL while at the same time it is admitted that Hezbollah may have had a hand in the fatal bombing of UN workers.

The long friendship of UNIFIL and Hezbollah continues....