Beirut asserts authority to avert new Israeli attack

BEIRUT — While the truce that halted a monthlong war between Israel and Hizbollah entered its second week, Lebanon made an all-out effort to control its territory to ward off a new round of Israeli attacks.

Israel has warned it was preparing for the “next round” against Hizbollah, as the United Nations struggles to convince states wary of sending troops to boost the weak UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon.

After the UN warned that the ceasefire which ended 34 days of hostilities was still fragile, Lebanese officials sought to demonstrate that the country was fulfilling its terms. Lebanese troops pursued their historic deployment to the border with Israel and Defence Minister Elias Murr vowed to punish any breach of the truce from Lebanese territory, insisting that Hizbollah was committed to the ceasefire.

The An-Nahar newspaper said Lebanese officials had told visiting UN envoys Sunday that the country was determined to “prove its capability to maintain order at air, sea and land borders.” On Saturday, the Lebanese army reinforced deployment and security measures at border crossing posts.

“It seems the Lebanese pledges have ‘armed’ UN envoys with important guarantees and convincing arguments that will help them negotiate with Israel to stop violations of UN Security Council Resolution” 1701, An-Nahar said.

UN chief Kofi Annan slammed an Israeli raid deep into Lebanon on Saturday as a violation of Resolution 1701 which established the ceasefire conditions.

Israel said the raid was staged to thwart alleged cross-border arms smuggling to Hizbollah from neighbouring Syria.

The Lebanese pledges would also underpin efforts to convince countries hesitant over participating in the UN force, An-Nahar said.

The United Nations has been urging countries, particularly in Europe, to send troops, but most have insisted on obtaining precise details on the force’s mandate before signing on.

The leftist As-Safir daily said: “Murr’s assertion that the resistance [Hizbollah)]was committed to respecting the ceasefire deal … is meant to reassure the world, particularly countries which are due to participate in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.” It added that a joint UNIFIL-Lebanese committee created to oversee implementation and respect of Resolution 1701 was “another message of assurance”.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri made their first visit Sunday to Beirut’s southern suburbs, a Hizbollah fief that was devastated by Israeli attacks.

In an apparent bid to extend the government’s presence into former no-go zones, Siniora told crowds of Hizbollah followers: “We will rebuild the southern suburbs and all Lebanese regions destroyed by Israel.” His promise came after Hizbollah began distributing tens of thousands of dollars in cash donations to families whose homes are in ruins.

Many regions of the southern suburbs remain under the sole control of armed Hizbollah fighters however, with Lebanese army troops yet to deploy according to government plans.

“Berri and Siniora vow to rebuild the state ‘for all’,” the Al Mustaqbal newspaper noted.

Al Balad’s headline read: “Berri and Siniora in the suburbs to affirm the state’s presence in reconstruction efforts.” 

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