Thursday, October 29, 2009

'Arms cache in every S. Lebanon village'

Oct. 29, 2009

UNIFIL - the UN's 13,000-strong peacekeeper force in southern Lebanon - is doing a good job of preventing Hizbullah from operating out in open areas, but dares not enter the hundreds of villages which dot the area, and which have become the central bases of operation for the Shi'ite terrorist group, an army source told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. UNIFIL's mandate is based on the enforcement of UN Resolution 1701, which bans Hizbullah from building up weapons caches south of the Litani River. But in reality, the arms ban is being partially enforced, the source added.

Speaking by phone from southern Lebanon, UNIFIL's Deputy Spokesman, Andreas Tenenti, told the Post that the peacekeepers have not encountered any attempts by Hizbullah to rearm itself in violation of Resolution 1701.

"From what we've seen during our patrols, we have not witnessed any rearmament," Tenenti said. "We have a large presence in the south of the country, [but] we are not in every place at every time," he added.

Lebanese army forces discovered on Wednesday morning four rockets mounted on launch pads in the Lebanese village of Houlo - from where a Katyusha rocket was fired at the Upper Galilee region of northern Israel on Tuesday evening.

The rockets, which were reportedly ready for launch, were neutralized by Lebanese troops.

Tenenti condemned Tuesday's rocket fire as a threat to regional stability, adding that UNIFIL had launched an investigation into the incident. "These attacks constitute serious challenges for all parties and for UNIFIL. Of course we condemn the launch of rockets violating Resolution 1701."

But Tenenti also expressed concern over the IDF's artillery shelling response to the rocket, saying, "I would add that harsh attacks [by the IDF] aimed at renewed hostilities undermine security and stability in southern Lebanon." Tenenti described the past three years as "one of the calmest periods in southern Lebanon in recent history. Besides a few sporadic incidents, the general situation in the South has been quiet."

The calm is, however, deceptive, Israel believes. Recent explosions of weapons caches in Lebanese villages offered more than enough proof of Hizbullah's rearmament efforts, the army source said.

"There are facts on the ground which speak for themselves," he added. Earlier this month, the IDF released surveillance video taken from a drone of a building in the town of Tirplesi following an enormous explosion of what the army says was an illegal Hizbullah arms cache.

Various long objects covered by a fabric can be seen being removed from the building, loaded onto a truck, and driven away. The objects were medium-range rockets that can strike deep into northern Israel, security sources said.

"What can be more clear than that?" the source asked.

Yoram Schweitzer, Director of the Program on Terrorism and Low Intensity Conflict at Tel Aviv University's Institute for National Security Studies, said "UNIFIL doesn't have means to go into the villages. They don't look for arms aggressively. They are a supervising force carrying out passive enforcement. If an incident occurs on the ground and Hizbullah seals off the area for four to five hours, UNIFIL will wait before moving in."

Schweitzer stressed that UNIFIL did not launch surprise raids or conduct search missions for weapons, "otherwise they will become a target." "It's a double game being played by both UNIFIL and Hizbullah. Hizbullah wants to obtain arms quietly, and dedicate its time to politics at this time. When it rebuffs UNIFIL, it does so nicely. And UNIFIL will not actively initiate weapons searches. Neither side will cross the line," he added.
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