Lebanon + 2 more

Implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) during the period from 20 February to 18 June 2021 - Report of the Secretary-General (S/2021/650)

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I. Introduction

1. The present report provides a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) since my previous report, dated 9 March 2021 (S/2021/240), including on the provisions of resolution 2539 (2020).
Outstanding obligations remain for both parties under resolution 1701 (2006). There was no progress towards a permanent ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel.

II. Implementation of resolution 1701 (2006)

A. Situation in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon

2. The situation in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), in particular along the Blue Line, remained tense, exacerbated by developments in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory in May. During this period, rockets were fired from southern Lebanon towards Israel on three oc casions, twice impacting in Israel and prompting response fire on two occasions. On 13 May, UNIFIL personnel stationed near Qulaylah and at UNIFIL headquarters in Naqurah (both Sector West) heard four loud sounds consistent with the firing of rockets and observed two flashes in the sky. Subsequently, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed to UNIFIL that several rockets fired from Lebanon had landed in Israeli waters. UNIFIL visited the suspected launch site north of the Blue Line on 19 May. The Lebanese Armed Forces showed UNIFIL the traces of four rockets fired in a southwesterly direction towards Israel and informed UNIFIL that they had found one unlaunched rocket, although it and the remnants of the used launch pads had been removed by the Lebanese Armed Forces and could not be inspected by UNIFIL.

3. On 17 May, UNIFIL detected six rockets being fired from north of the Blue Line near Kfar Shuba (Sector East), which flew over the Israeli villages of Metulla and Misgav Am and impacted near the Lebanese villages Rabb al Thalathin and Markaba, as well as near a UNIFIL position near Udaysah (all Sector East). Shortly thereafter, UNIFIL observed the Israel Defense Forces firing 12 artillery rounds, including five illumination shells, from south of the Blue Line towards the north-west of Shab‘a (Sector East). The following day, UNIFIL, with the Lebanese Armed Forces, visited the suspected launch site, where the Lebanese Armed Forces showed UNIFIL six launch pads for 122-mm rockets with timer devices and batteries, as well as one intact rocket set to launch towards Israel.

4. On 19 May, UNIFIL personnel heard four loud sounds consistent with the firing of rockets, emanating from near Siddiqin (Sector West). UNIFIL detected one rocket that impacted south of the Blue Line, about 40 kilometres from its point of origin, as later confirmed by the Israel Defense Forces. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that another rocket had been neutralized by the Iron Dome defence system over Israeli airspace, while two other rockets had fallen into the sea. UNIFIL subsequently recorded 13 rounds of artillery being fired from south of the Blue Line, which impacted an open area between Naqurah and Bayyadah (Sector West), causing UNIFIL to order its personnel into bunkers as a protective measure. UNIFIL dispatched to the suspected launch site, where the Lebanese Armed Forces showed UNIFIL four used rocket launchers and one intact 122-mm rocket.

5. Throughout the period from 13 to 19 May, the UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander was in continuous contact with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces to clarify the situation, facilitate a coordinated operational response and prevent escalation. The parties reiterated their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities and worked closely with UNIFIL to contain the situation. UNIFIL has launched investigations into the three incidents.

6. From 14 to 25 May, UNIFIL observed large gatherings along the Blue Line, including near Marun al-Ra’s, Marwahin, Udaysah and Sarda (all Sector East), with the Lebanese Armed Forces present at all locations. On 14 May, demonstrators in vehicle convoys displayed Palestinian, Lebanese and Hizbullah flags at several locations along the Blue Line, including near Markaba, Udaysah, Kafr Kila and Arab al-Wazzani (Sector East). Near Arab al-Wazzani, approximately 100 protesters disembarked from some 30 vehicles and 20 motorcycles and moved towards the Blue Line, with at least 10 protesters crossing the Blue Line across from the Israeli village of Metulla. Seven of the individuals cut through the Israeli technical fence and crossed into the Metulla area, where they planted Palestinian and Hizbullah flags, threw stones and lit a brushfire. UNIFIL then observed Israel Defense Forces soldie rs firing 10 single shots from assault rifles followed by rounds of automatic fire, prompting the demonstrators to return north of the Blue Line. UNIFIL also heard four detonations and saw dark smoke. At the urging of UNIFIL, the Israel Defense Forces ceased fire to allow the Lebanese Armed Forces, in cooperation with UNIFIL, to evacuate civilians from the area. In identical letters dated 17 May addressed to the President of the Security Council and to me, (A/75/890-S/2021/482), the Permanent Representative of Lebanon stated that “on 14 May 2021, during a rally of civilians in solidarity with the Palestinian people near the technical fence in the Ibil al-Qamh area in the town of Sarda, Israeli enemy soldiers opened fire in their direction into Lebanese territory. That led to injuries to Husayn Sulub … and Muhammad Tahhan … Mr. Tahhan died from his injuries shortly thereafter”. UNIFIL has launched an investigation into the incident. Preliminary findings indicate that the demonstrators, in breaching the Blue Line and the technical fence and throwing stones and incendiary items that ignited a fire on the Israeli side, violated resolution 1701 (2006). In addition, the firing of live ammunition across the Blue Line by the Israel Defense Forces against the demonstrators constituted a violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and was not commensurate with the threat posed to Israeli soldiers.

7. On 15 May (Palestinian Nakbah day), demonstrators in Udaysah threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli T-wall and removed the old technical fence at Panorama Point, south of the Blue Line. Despite efforts by the Lebanese Armed Forces to prevent the protesters from crossing the Blue Line, several protesters climbed the Israeli T-wall and vandalized the cameras attached to the wall. UNIFIL heard small arms fire on two occasions. On 17 May, also at Udaysah, UNIFIL observed five illumination flares that were fired from south to north of the Blue Line.
On 18 May, UNIFIL observed the Israel Defense Forces firing approximately 15 smoke grenades, which impacted north of the Blue Line in Udaysah after protesters had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli T-wall. In Sarda, on 18 May, demonstrators threw two flares southwards; the Israel Defense Forces threw two flares northwards in response. All four flares landed north of the Blue Line. On 23 May, protesters in Shab‘a broke through a Lebanese Armed Forces cordon, advanced past UNIFIL peacekeepers and crossed south of the Blue Line to the Isra eli security fence, where they placed Palestinian and Hizbullah flags. After the Lebanese Armed Forces tried to apprehend them, the protesters threw stones at the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL, injuring one Lebanese Armed Forces soldier and damaging one UNIFIL vehicle.

8. Throughout the demonstrations, UNIFIL coordinated with the parties to implement measures to prevent escalation. The Lebanese Armed Forces established mobile checkpoints along roads leading to the Blue Line to restrict assemblies in the area and took crowd control measures during protests close to the Blue Line. UNIFIL deployed at key locations along the Blue Line, maintained aerial surveillance and increased its patrols and counter-rocket-launching operations in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, while remaining in close contact with both parties. UNIFIL urged the Lebanese Armed Forces to prevent spillover of demonstrations across the Blue Line and urged the Israel Defense Forces to exercise restraint. Underscoring the seriousness of these incidents, UNIFIL has asked the Lebanese Armed Forces to investigate and share its findings with UNIFIL.

9. During the reporting period, UNIFIL continued to observe illumination rounds that were fired by the Israel Defense Forces in response to what the latter asserted were suspicious activities. On 1 March, UNIFIL observed 11 illumination rounds being fired from south of the Blue Line in the vicinity of Arab al-Wazzani, 7 of which landed north of the Blue Line. On 21 March, UNIFIL heard approximately 108 rounds of fire and five explosions and observed nine illumination rounds being fired from south of the Blue Line in the vicinity of Hula (Sector East). Subsequently, the Lebanese Armed Forces informed UNIFIL that they had apprehended three individuals in the area. The following day, UNIFIL found remnants of illumination rounds north of the Blue Line, as well as a hole in the Israeli technical fence. UNIFIL observed the Israel Defense Forces firing four illumination rounds on 3 April and one round on 16 April from Ghajar, all of which landed north of the Blue Line. One such round landed on the roof of a UNIFIL position, without causing damage. On 17 April, UNIFIL observed 12 illumination rounds being fired from south of the Blue Line in the vicinity of Hula, all of which landed south of the Blue Line. On 14 May, UNIFIL detected five illumination shells that were launched from south of the Blue Line towards Sarda. Two days later, the Lebanese Armed Forces informed UNIFIL of an unexploded 155-mm illumination round found in the area. On 16 May, UNIFIL detected 11 illumination rounds that were launched from south of the Blue Line, also in the vicinity of Sarda, all of which impacted north of the Blue Line. On 6 June, UNIFIL observed six illumination flares being fired from south of the Blue Line and falling near a UNIFIL position near Alma al-Sha‘b (Sector West).

10. While the Lebanese Armed Forces initiated works to redirect the trajectory of the dirt road that crossed the Blue Line close to Udaysah (see S/2021/240, para. 5), tensions remained heightened, with incidents of weapons being pointed by both parties across the Blue Line, requiring UNIFIL to interpose between the parties on five occasions. During each incident, UNIFIL observed groups of individuals in civilian clothes next to the Lebanese Armed Forces north of the Blue Line. On 17 March, individuals in civilian clothes snatched a camera from UNIFIL personnel and removed the memory card before returning the camera. UNIFIL also observed five incidents of weapons being pointed across the Blue Line in Mays al-Jabal, Aytarun, Alma al-Sha‘b and Hula. In identical letters dated 17 May addressed to the President of the Security Council and to me (A/75/888-S/2021/477), the Permanent Representative of Lebanon stated, with respect to the incident at Aytarun, that Israel Defense Forces soldiers “pointed their weapons at the Lebanese Army soldiers several times” and condemned “these flagrant Israeli violations of its sovereignty in the strongest possible terms”.

11. Pursuant to the recommendations made in the assessment of the continued relevance of UNIFIL resources (S/2020/473) of June 2020, welcomed by the Security Council in its resolution 2539 (2020), UNIFIL initiated preparatory engineering works to install cameras inside several UNIFIL positions along the Blue Line. Local media issued a series of articles misrepresenting the project and questioning its purpose. On four occasions, between 1 and 9 April, individuals in civilian clothes protested against the preparatory works at UNIFIL positions in Kafr Kila, Mays al-Jabal and Markaba (all Sector East) and threatened to use force to prevent the installation of cameras. On 20 May, individuals in civilian clothes cut the concertina wire at a UNIFIL position in Hula, climbed on top of the perimeter barrier and took photographs of the preparatory works for the installation of a new signal tower. Seven individuals then forcefully entered the position before being escorted out. UNIFIL has launched an investigation and remains engaged with the Lebanese Armed Forces, which have requested time to address local concerns before the camera installation proceeds.

12. The Israel Defense Forces continued to enter Lebanese airspace in violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and of Lebanese sovereignty. From 20 February to 18 June, UNIFIL recorded 260 airspace violations, totalling 412 hours and 43 minutes in overflight time. Drones accounted for approximately 80 per cent of the viol ations. The remaining airspace violations involved fighter aircraft or unidentified aircraft.

13. On 29 March, Lebanese media reported that a shepherd had found an Israeli drone north of the Blue Line near Kfar Shuba and handed it to the Lebanese Armed Forces. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that they had lost a drone due to a malfunction. On 27 April, the Israel Defense Forces tweeted that it had “downed a Hezbollah drone that crossed from Lebanon into Israel”. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that they had located another “Hezbollah drone” that they had brought down a few weeks earlier. UNIFIL did not observe the reported incidents.

14. Amid reports of alleged Israeli airstrikes into the Syrian Arab Republic on 8 April, UNIFIL is investigating the possible impact of a projectile near Hula in southern Lebanon.

15. From 20 February to 18 June, in addition to ground violations committed during the aforementioned demonstrations, UNIFIL recorded 431 ground violations by Lebanese civilians crossing south of the Blue Line, including 289 violations by shepherds and farmers, mainly in the Shab‘a Farms area, as well as 97 violations by civilians on their way to the Shu‘ayb well near Blida (Sector East). On 6 April, UNIFIL observed Lebanese Armed Forces personnel crossing south of the Blue Line in the vicinity of Mays al-Jabal while monitoring an Israel Defense Forces training activity. On 8 May, UNIFIL observed Israel Defense Forces personnel chasing goats from north to south of the Blue Line, near Kfar Shuba. On 2 March, the International Committee of the Red Cross, in coordination with UNIFIL, facilitated the return of a Lebanese citizen who was apprehended on 28 February by the Israel Defense Forces after he had crossed south of the Blue Line. The UNIFIL investigation into the incident continues.

16. The occupation of northern Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line by the Israel Defense Forces continued. While the Government of Lebanon has welcomed the UNIFIL proposal of 2011 for the facilitation of the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the occupied area, the Government of Israel has yet to respond.

17. As part of efforts to keep the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River free of unauthorized armed personnel, assets and weapons, UNIFIL, in coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, maintained 16 permanent and an average of 122 temporary checkpoints and conducted 335 counter-rocket-launching operations on average each month. In addition to the aforementioned rocket-firing incidents, UNIFIL observed unauthorized weapons in the area of operations on 271 occasions. Of those, all but the following three incidents involved hunting weapons. On 13 May, a UNIFIL patrol following up on the reported rocket-launching in Qulaylah on 13 May (see para. 2) was stopped by six individuals in civilian clothes carrying automatic rifles. On 14 May, UNIFIL observed two individuals in civilian clothes near Dayr Qanun (Sector West) carrying two automatic rifles. On 19 May, UNIFIL observed two individuals in civilian clothes, one of whom was carrying an assault rifle, near Shama‘ (Sector West). UNIFIL informed the Lebanese Armed Forces of these incidents.

18. Pursuant to resolution 2539 (2020), UNIFIL maintained its high operational tempo and visible presence throughout the area of operations, conducting on average 14,022 monthly military operational activities, including 6,555 patrols. Some 5 per cent of the mission’s military operational activities included at least one woman peacekeeper. UNIFIL vehicular, foot and air patrols maintained an operational footprint in municipalities and villages in the area of operations. Air reconnaissance patrols continued over areas to which ground patrols have limited access, including private property, land contaminated by explosive remnants of war or anti-personnel mines, and wadis. The proportion of UNIFIL operations conducted in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces remained at 16 per cent. UNIFIL conducted 233 training sessions for the Lebanese Armed Forces, including a large firing exercise from 7 to 11 June.

19. Despite repeated requests, UNIFIL has yet to gain full access to several locations of interest, including some Green without Borders sites. While the freedom of movement of UNIFIL was generally respected, the mission did encounter some restrictions to its movements (see annex I).

20. The UNIFIL Maritime Task Force continued maritime interdiction operations throughout the maritime area of operations, hailing 2,319 vessels. Of these, the Lebanese Armed Forces inspected and cleared all 403 vessels referred to them by UNIFIL.

21. UNIFIL continued to support the capacity-building of the Lebanese Navy, conducting 320 training sessions and exercises and jointly practising common operational standards for commanding, monitoring and hailing activities. This included nine advanced maritime interdiction operation integration training sessions, which gradually increased in duration from 24 to 72 hours. The UNIFIL Maritime Task Force and the Lebanese Navy also conducted 10 search and rescue exercises and two helicopter deck landing exercises. Since 6 April, training sessions requiring in - person attendance have gradually resumed, while respecting coronavirus disease (COVID-19) precautionary measures.

22. The Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL continued their engagement within the framework of the strategic dialogue process. In a virtual meeting co-chaired with UNIFIL on 13 April, the Lebanese Armed Forces informed international community representatives that construction works for the model regiment headquarters at Sribbin (Sector West) commenced on 10 March. The Lebanese Armed Forces also noted that the reconstruction of the Beirut Naval Base, the extension of the Jounieh Naval School and the building of a joint rescue and coordination centre continued.