UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – U.N. Security Council members have agreed that U.N. peacekeepers should keep monitoring the Israeli-Lebanese border for another six months, a key diplomat said on Wednesday.
Lebanon had asked for the U.N. mission’s mandate in the border area to be renewed for an additional year, until Jan. 31, 2007. But the 15 council members instead reached consensus on an extension until July 31, 2006, said Tanzanian U.N. Ambassador Augustine Mahiga, the council president for January.
The mandate of the 2,000-strong U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, will expire Jan. 31 unless renewed by the council. A vote on a resolution prolonging the mission is expected Monday or Tuesday, council diplomats said.
While the mission has been in place since March 1978, a draft resolution circulated by France on Wednesday would emphasize “the interim nature” of the mission and stress the council was “looking forward to the early fulfillment of its mandate.”
The draft would also urge Israel and Lebanon to put an end to violations of their shared border and renew appeals to Lebanon’s government to extend its authority across the south, to prevent attacks on Israel from its side of the border.
The 15-nation council and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have regularly pressed the Lebanese government to assert control over the south since Israel pulled out of the region in May 2000, ending 22 years of occupation.
After the Israeli withdrawal, the militant group Hezbollah came to dominate the area, profiting from a power vacuum there. Hezbollah guerrillas have since sporadically clashed with Israeli forces.
The council and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan have been urging the Lebanese government to disarm Hezbollah, in line with a September 2004 council resolution demanding that all foreign militias on Lebanese soil be disbanded.
But Hezbollah has refused to do so and last year joined the Lebanese government after a landslide victory in June parliamentary elections.