U.N. warns it will "forcefully" act to maintain peace in south Lebanon

Tuesday, October 3rd 2006, 6:23 am
By: News On 6

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ The U.N. peacekeeping force patrolling south Lebanon moved to strengthen its hold on the volatile region on Tuesday, announcing it will ``forcefully'' act against any hostile activity or threat.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon had previously declared it would act cautiously if faced with armed Hezbollah guerrillas or hidden weapons. Israel has demanded the disarmament of the guerrillas.

Tuesday's announcement appeared to signal a new UNIFIL strategy for establishing security and assisting the Lebanese army in patrolling an 18-mile weapons-free zone between the Israeli border and the Litani River.

On Monday, Lebanon's army commander, Gen. Michel Suleiman, told about 500 soldiers the army will not allow any attacks from Lebanon that could undermine the cease-fire _ an apparent reference to rockets Hezbollah launched at Israel from the south in 34 days of fighting that ended Aug. 14.

Hezbollah guerrillas have boasted in recent days that they are still in the area and Israel has warned it will not tolerate armed guerrillas along the border, as was the case when fighting broke out July 12 after guerrillas crossed the frontier and captured two Israeli soldiers. During the hostilities, Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets on Israel.

The statement warned U.N. commanders ``have sufficient authority to act forcefully when confronted with hostile activity of any kind.''

But UNIFIL, with some 5,200 troops in the south, says that it along with the Lebanese military will crack down on the flow of weapons into and around the south. The Lebanese military has deployed 15,000 troops.

Lebanese troops and U.N. peacekeepers, who are also expected to number 15,000 under the cease-fire resolution, have already deployed in most of the areas vacated by Israel, after it withdrew Sunday from nearly all of south Lebanon.

But Israeli troops are still present on the Lebanese side of one border village. UNIFIL has said it hopes to resolve the dispute over Ghajar this week.

A Lebanese army statement said four Israeli jets flew over southern towns and villages as well as areas in northern Lebanon. UNIFIL has asked Israel to end this practice, which violates the cease-fire. Israeli officials said previously that air patrols would continue. A military spokesman declined comment on the latest overflight reports.

Residents of the Lebanese border town of Yaroun on Tuesday buried a Hezbollah fighter whose body was found after Israeli troops pulled out from the area.

Amid the chants of ``Death to Israel,'' about 300 people marched behind the coffin of Radwan Anwar Saleh, 34, a native son of the town. Residents said Saleh also had U.S. citizenship and had returned to his native Yaroun from California in 1998. There was no immediate comment from the U.S. Embassy on the report.

UNIFIL first deployed to south Lebanon in 1978 to oversee the withdrawal of Israeli forces who invaded that year. Israel invaded again in 1982 and occupied a region until 2000, with the 2,000-member lightly armed peacekeeping force reduced to monitoring and reporting violations by both sides and helping deliver aid to civilians.