Hezbollah chief rejects U.S. pressure to beef up role of UN peacekeepers
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah spoke ahead of a UN Security Council vote this summer to renew the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
"The Americans, as the result of Israeli demands, are raising the issue of changing the nature of UNIFIL's mission," Nasrallah said in a radio interview to mark 20 years since Israel withdrew from Lebanon.
"Lebanon has refused to change UNIFIL's mission, but Israel wants... it to have the right to raid and search private properties, and the Americans are pressuring Lebanon on this matter," Nasrallah said.
In August last year, the UN Security Council voted to renew UNIFIL's mandate for a year.
But the resolution included a requirement – on the insistence of the United States, diplomats said – for the UN secretary general to perform an evaluation on the UNIFIL mission and its staff before 1 June 2020.
"We are not against UNIFIL staying," Nasrallah said. But "the time of deeming Lebanon to be weak is over, and Israel cannot impose conditions on Lebanon, even behind an American mask."
In early May, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Kelly Craft, claimed UNIFIL was being "prevented from fulfilling its mandate" and Hezbollah had "been able to arm itself and expand operations, putting the Lebanese people at risk".
Hezbollah, Lebanon's Iran-backed paramilitary organisation
Hezbollah, or Party of God, was conceived by Muslim clerics in the 1980s in response to the Israeli invasion of South Lebanon in 1982. The Shia group has a political and military wing.
National support against Israel: Hezbollah emerged in the 1980s as an amalgamation of Shia militias and played a major role in the Lebanese civil war. It used guerrilla warfare to drive Israeli forces out of South Lebanon – Israel withdrew in 2000. Israel and Hezbollah fought another war in 2006. Its defence of Lebanon against Israel won it cross-sectarian support and acceptance in Lebanese society
Backed by Iran: since its creation, Hezbollah has received military, financial and political support from Iran and Syria. Today, Hezbollah's military wing is more powerful than Lebanon's own army and has become a major regional paramilitary force
Political apparatus: Hezbollah turned its focus to politics following the end of Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war. It represents a large section of the Lebanese Shia population and is allied with other sectarian groups, including Christians. Their political development has mostly come under Hassan Nasrallah (pictured), who became the group's leader in 1992
Armed wing: unlike other parties in Lebanon's multi-sided 1975-1990 civil war, Hezbollah did not disband its armed wing. Some Lebanese political groups, such as former Prime Minister Saad Hariri's Future Movement, want Hezbollah to put down its arms. Hezbollah argues its militant wing is necessary to defend against Israel and other external threats
Terror group? A number of countries and bodies, including the United States, Israel, Canada, the Arab League and, most recently, Germany, consider Hezbollah a terrorist organisation. However, Australia and many European Union countries differentiate between its legitimate political activities and its militant wing
Hezbollah enters Syria's civil war: Hezbollah has been one of the main backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country's civil war. Its entrance into the war helped save Assad, one of its chief patrons; secured weapons supply routes from Syria and formed a buffer zone around Lebanon against Sunni militant groups it feared would take over Syria. As a result it has won considerable support from Shia communities in Lebanon
Sectarianism: Lebanon has long been at the centre of regional power struggles, particularly between Saudi Arabia and Iran. However, Hezbollah's military and political ascendancy, as well as its intervention in Syria, have also helped stoke Sunni-Shia sectarian tensions in Lebanon and across the region
Renewed conflict with Israel? Iran and Hezbollah have increased their political and military strength through the war in Syria. Israel views this as a threat and has carried out dozens of airstrikes on Iran/Hezbollah targets in Syria. Israel has vowed to not let Iran and Hezbollah create a permanent presence in Syria. There is growing concern of another war between Hezbollah and Israel that could draw in Iran. (Author: Chase Winter)
The Security Council "must either pursue serious change to empower UNIFIL or realign its staffing and resources with tasks it can actually accomplish," she wrote on Twitter.
Nasrallah spoke after a dispute broke out late Monday in the southern village of Blida between Finnish peacekeepers and residents, after a UNIFIL military vehicle hit two cars and motorbike, the National News Agency reported.
Young men cut off the road in protest, and the Finnish peacekeepers had to be escorted out by the Lebanese army, it said.
On Tuesday, surrounding villages in a joint statement accused the patrol of "entering and searching people's vineyards and private properties", describing such actions as unacceptable.
Lebanon and Israel are still technically at war.
Set up in 1978, UNIFIL was beefed up after a months-long war in 2006 and tasked with guaranteeing a ceasefire and Israeli withdrawal from a demilitarised zone on the border.
UNIFIL can have up to 10,000 troops on the ground, monitoring the truce and helping Lebanese troops secure the borders. (AFP)