PARIS, (Reuters) – Israeli warplanes are still flying over southern Lebanon despite appeals for them to halt the missions, the outgoing commander of a United Nations peacekeeping mission said on Friday. “They are continuing to do (overflights) on a daily basis … sometimes five or six a day,” Major-General Alain Pellegrini told Europe 1 radio.
Asked what was the point of the flights, Pellegrini said: “It’s obviously to control the territory, but it could also be to provoke.”
France said in November its peacekeepers came close to firing on Israeli warplanes flying low over their position in southern Lebanon and asked the United States to put pressure on Israel to end the flights.
Israel says it will not stop the overflights until it is sure that the guerrilla group Hezbollah was not rearming via neighbouring Syria.
Pellegrini, who is due to be replaced by an Italian general later this month, said arms might be reaching Hezbollah, but added that he had no evidence of this. “I cannot confirm it. It is something that is possible.”
The U.N. peacekeepers have helped enforce a U.N.-brokered ceasefire that took effect on Aug. 14, ending a 34-day war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas.
The U.N. Security Council has authorised a force of up to 15,000 troops for the region. Pellegrini said at present there were just over 12,000 U.N. troops in southern Lebanon, adding that this would rise to 13,000 by the end of February. He said he did not believe his Italian successor would need any more peacekeepers to carry out the U.N. mission.
In addition to monitoring the ceasefire, the mission provides humanitarian aid and clears mines and other explosive devices remaining in the area from previous conflicts.