- The present report provides a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) since my previous report, dated 17 July 2019 (S/2019/574), including on the provisions of resolution 2485 (2019). The area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) experienced heightened tensions. 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
On 1 September, UNIFIL witnessed a serious escalation in the Mission’s area of operations. This came amid heightened tensions following reports on 25 August that one unmanned aerial vehicle had crashed and a second had exploded in Beirut.
Following the 25 August unmanned aerial vehicle incident, UNIFIL observed an increase in Israel Defense Forces overflights into Lebanese territory and activities south of the Blue Line, as well as movement of individuals in civilian clothes on the Lebanese side observing areas south of the Blue Line. As a preventive measure, UNIFIL increased its counter-rocket-launching operations and observation activities in all municipalities along the Blue Line. The Head of Mission and Force Commander also stressed to the political leadership of Lebanon and Israel the need for full compliance with resolution 1701 (2006).
On 26 August, UNIFIL observed 10 illumination flares fired by the Israel Defense Forces close to Shab‘a (Sector East), with two flares impacting north of the Blue Line, igniting a bush fire. The Lebanese Armed Forces announced on 28 August that it had fired at three Israeli unmanned aerial vehicles flying above Kafr Kila (Sector East), prompting them to return south of the Blue Line. UNIFIL did not observe the incident. In a statement issued the same day, the Israel Defense Forces acknowledged that while its drones had been targeted, “no damage was caused”. On 31 August, UNIFIL detected four illumination shells fired from near an Israel Defense Forces position close to Bastrah (Sector East). Remnants of some projectiles crossed the Blue Line, landing inside a United Nations position north-east of Bastrah, posing serious risks to UNIFIL personnel.
Subsequently, on 1 September, UNIFIL heard three loud explosions believed to be missiles fired towards an area south of the Blue Line, from a location east of Aytarun (Sector West). UNIFIL then observed artillery explosions fired from an area south of the Blue Line directed at the area where the missiles had originated. The UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander urgently engaged with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.
A technical investigation by UNIFIL of the incident on 1 September revealed that three anti-tank missiles had been launched from north of the Blue Line at a moving Israel Defense Forces Wolf armoured personnel carrier with five Israel Defense Forces personnel on board. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that it had assessed that the missiles used were Kornet missiles. Based on its technical assessment of the impact location of the missiles, velocity, expected trajectory and line of sight from launch to impact, the Mission estimated that the locations from where the suspected anti-tank missiles were launched were in the area of two adjacent Green without Borders sites in Marun al-Ra’s. UNIFIL formally requested the Lebanese Armed Forces to facilitate its access to those sites in a letter dated 5 September.
Hizbullah claimed responsibility for the strike. The Israel Defense Forces informed UNIFIL that the five Israel Defense Forces personnel in the vehicle were unharmed. UNIFIL confirmed that on 1 September, Israel Defense Forces had fired artillery rounds into Lebanon in the vicinity of Marun al-Ra’s and Aytarun (both Sector West), scorching grassland. UNIFIL did not find evidence of the use of cluster or incendiary bombs by the Israel Defense Forces, as stated by Lebanon in its identical letters dated 3 September addressed to the President of the Security Council and to me (A/73/996-S/2019/708).
In a letter dated 19 September, the Lebanese Armed Forces confirmed that it would facilitate access to the relevant Green without Borders sites. However, on 20 September, a Lebanese Armed Forces officer granted UNIFIL only partial access to the sites, denying the use of necessary technical equipment. Despite repeated communications by the Mission leadership with the Lebanese Armed Forces and the political leadership of Lebanon, UNIFIL has not been granted full access on the grounds that the sites are private property. The Mission continues to stress the need for unimpeded access to relevant sites.
On 9 September, Hizbullah claimed that “the resistance” had intercepted, “with the appropriate weaponry”, an Israeli drone that was crossing the PalestinianLebanese border near the southern town of Ramiyah. The Israel Defense Forces confirmed that a small unmanned aerial vehicle had fallen inside Lebanese territory. UNIFIL is following up with the parties to determine the circumstances of the incident. On 23 October, Lebanese media reported that a resident of Kafr Kila had shot down a small Israeli drone. The Israel Defense Forces tweeted that a drone had fallen within Lebanese territory. A UNIFIL investigation is ongoing.
Tensions increased in Blida (Sector East) in connection with Israel Defense Forces vegetation clearance south of the Blue Line in June and July. As a preventive measure, UNIFIL increased its presence in the area. UNIFIL and Observer Group Lebanon experienced restrictions of movement in and around Blida during that period. The most serious incident occurred on 30 June when eight men with four vehicles blocked an Observer Group Lebanon patrol near Blida and hit the patrol vehicle with baseball bats while threatening to set it on fire. The following day, four individuals approached a UNIFIL team in the same area and warned it to leave. UNIFIL subsequently determined that an Israel Defense Forces excavator arm had crossed the Blue Line on 1 July.
UNIFIL observed 11 bush fires in minefields along the Blue Line, resulting in 51 mine explosions. On three occasions tensions rose in Blida as the Lebanese Armed Forces and Israel Defense Forces accused each other of having ignited the fires. To prevent future tensions, UNIFIL liaised with the parties regarding their firefighting interventions close to the Blue Line, while supporting the firefighting capacity of Lebanese civil defence personnel.
In a letter to the UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander, received on 17 September, the Lebanese Minister for Defence, Elias Bou Saab, stated that the Israel Defense Forces had access to a non-operational railway tunnel along the Ra’s al-Naqurah/Rosh HaNiqra coastline which was allegedly blocked by concrete 40 metres north of the Blue Line. The Minister asked UNIFIL to establish whether the Israel Defense Forces had access to the tunnel beyond the Blue Line. On 25 September, the Israel Defense Forces placed a camera at the northern entrance of the tunnel. On 26 September, despite assurances from the UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander that he was engaged with the Israel Defense Forces in efforts to have the camera removed, the Lebanese Armed Forces proceeded to remove the camera but had to abandon their attempt when smoke reportedly emitted from the camera. UNIFIL observed 14 Israel Defense Forces soldiers south of the Blue Line firing four shots towards the sea. The activities were not coordinated with UNIFIL. At the Mission’s request, the Israel Defense Forces removed the camera later that day. UNIFIL is following up with the Israel Defense Forces regarding their access to the tunnel.
The Lebanese Armed Forces objected to the Israel Defense Forces tower erected in a Lebanese reservation area in Rosh HaNiqra, across from Ra’s al-Naqurah, in June, as described in paragraph 5 of my previous report (S/2019/574), as well as to the construction of T-walls in a Lebanese reservation area in Arab al-Wazzani (Sector East). UNIFIL continues to urge both parties to give prior notification of any activity close to the Blue Line.
Israel continued to enter Lebanese airspace in violation of resolution 1701 (2006) and Lebanese sovereignty on an almost daily basis. From July to October, UNIFIL recorded 787 airspace violations, for a total of 3,292 overflight hours. Unmanned aerial vehicles accounted for approximately 91 per cent of the violations. This included an increase in small unmanned aerial vehicles observed from 25 August to 1 September. The remaining airspace violations involved fighter aircraft or unidentified aircraft. In identical letters dated 19 August addressed to the President of the Security Council and to me (A/73/986-S/2019/675), Lebanon stated that Israel had continued its “serial flagrant violations of Lebanese sovereignty and Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)” and that “on 1 July 2019, nine Israeli aircraft violated Lebanese airspace and fired missiles, on two occasions, over Lebanese territory and deep into the territory of the Syrian Arab Republic. Lebanon condemns this dangerous Israeli violation in the strongest possible terms”. UNIFIL continued to protest all air violations to the Israel Defense Forces and to urge their immediate cessation.
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, shared with the parties in 2011, for the facilitation of the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces from the occupied area, the Government of Israel has yet to respond.
UNIFIL observed four instances of weapons pointing towards areas north of the Blue Line by Israel Defense Forces soldiers. In the most serious such incident, an Observer Group Lebanon patrol on 30 October observed three Israel Defense Forces soldiers pointing their weapons towards two Lebanese Armed Forces soldiers northeast of Bastrah (Sector East) before leaving the area.
From 25 June to 31 October, UNIFIL recorded 420 ground violations of the Blue Line by unarmed Lebanese civilians crossing south of the Blue Line, including 271 violations by shepherds and farmers, mainly in the Shabʻa Farms area, and by farmers cultivating their fields near Rumaysh, as well as 99 violations by civilians accessing Shuʻayb well near Blida (all Sector East). Armed hunters from Lebanon crossed south of the Blue Line on one occasion. UNIFIL conducts outreach activities with the local population to prevent such violations. In addition to the violation by the Israel Defense Forces detailed in paragraph 10 above, Israel Defense Forces soldiers crossed north of the Blue Line close to Bastrah on 18 and 23 October while patrolling on foot.
Pursuant to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), UNIFIL continued to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces in establishing an area between the Blue Line and the Litani River free of unauthorized armed personnel, assets and weapons other than those belonging to the Government of Lebanon and to UNIFIL. With regard to deterrence and prevention, UNIFIL continued to prioritize patrols, counter-rocketlaunching operations and checkpoints in areas of recent tensions and historic significance. In close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces, UNIFIL maintained 16 permanent and an average of 163 temporary checkpoints and conducted some 293 counter-rocket-launching operations each month.
In addition to the three missiles noted in paragraph 6 above and the weapons observed in connection with demonstrations in Tyre (Sector West) on 18 and 19 October (see para. 64 below), UNIFIL observed unauthorized weapons in the area of operation on 260 occasions. As detailed in annex I, all but four incidents involved hunting weapons.
UNIFIL maintained its high operational tempo, in line with resolution 2373 (2017) and as reiterated in resolutions 2433 (2018) and 2485 (2019), conducting 14,356 monthly military operational activities on average, including 6,669 patrols. Some 6.4 per cent of UNIFIL operational activities included at least one woman. UNIFIL continued to conduct 22 per cent of its operational activities in close coordination with the Lebanese Armed Forces.
UNIFIL vehicle, foot and air patrols maintained an operational footprint in all municipalities and villages in the area of operations. UNIFIL continued air, vehicle and foot patrols in areas surrounding Green without Borders sites close to the Blue Line. Air reconnaissance patrols continued over areas to which ground patrols had limited access, including private property, rugged terrain or land contaminated by explosive remnants of war or anti-personnel mines. UNIFIL increased its night patrols from 35 per cent of its overall patrols in June to 45 per cent in September.
While the freedom of movement of UNIFIL was generally respected, several restrictions of freedom of movement and access were encountered (see annex II). Both the Lebanese Armed Forces and members of the local community frequently claimed that specific locations UNIFIL was trying to access were private property and that the Mission had to be accompanied by the Lebanese Armed Forces at those locations. UNIFIL maintains continuous engagement with the Lebanese Armed Forces to secure full access to relevant locations in the area of operations.
As detailed in my report dated 14 March 2019 (S/2019/237, para. 2), and despite repeated requests, UNIFIL has yet to gain access to the tunnel openings north of the Blue Line.
The United Nations continued to follow up with the Lebanese authorities on the incident of 4 August 2018 in the village of Majdal Zun (Sector West) in which armed individuals attacked a UNIFIL patrol, as described in my report dated 15 November 2018 (S/2018/1029, para. 16). Lebanese authorities have not provided an explanation as to why the conclusions of the Lebanese Armed Forces shared on 17 December 2018 and detailed in my report dated 14 March 2019 (S/2019/237, para. 20) diverged significantly from those of UNIFIL. To date, the United Nations has not been informed of criminal proceedings to bring the perpetrators to justice. UNIFIL has provided the Lebanese authorities with information to assist in the identification of the perpetrators. The United Nations continues to engage with the Lebanese authorities to request updates on this incident and its follow-up.
In close coordination with the Lebanese Navy, the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force carried out maritime interdiction operations throughout the maritime area of operations, hailing 3,340 vessels, 537 of which were inspected and cleared by th e Lebanese authorities. In support of the continued capacity-building of the Lebanese Navy, the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force conducted 202 training sessions for the Lebanese Navy regarding monitoring and hailing procedures.
Within the framework of the strategic dialogue mechanism, UNIFIL continued discussions on a strategy for a phased transition of Maritime Task Force responsibilities to the Lebanese Navy, pursuant to resolutions 2433 (2018) and 2485 (2019). On 30 August and 13 September, the Lebanese Armed Forces presented to the United Nations, the European Union and the representatives of seven interested countries elements of a long-term development plan for the Lebanese Navy as well as its plan for the deployment of its model regiment. A building in Sibrin (Sector West) was presented as the future headquarters for the regiment