22 - 28 June 2000
Issue No. 487
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Just what the doctor orderedBy Zeina Khodr
Ever since Israeli forces withdrew in late May from areas occupied in southern Lebanon for the past 22 years, the United Nations, along with Lebanese and Israeli experts, began the arduous task of verifying the pullout. The verification is needed before UN peace-keepers, already deployed in the south, can fan out in recently liberated areas.
After more than two weeks of on-site inspections, the UN, or more precisely Secretary-General Kofi Annan, concluded that Israel had fulfilled UN Resolution 425 and had fully withdrawn from Lebanon.
But Israel, Beirut said, still controls at least six border locations. Lebanon's objection did not stop Annan from threatening the Security Council with cancelling his Mideast tour if it did not endorse his statement certifying that the pullout was complete. After heated and long deliberations, the council acceded and adopted the secretary-general's position. But under pressure from Russia, it took note of Lebanon's objections. "The council notes with serious concern reports of violations that have occurred since 16 June, 2000," the council said.
The UN stopped short of pointing the finger at Israel. "We would have liked the declaration to cite Israel by name and make it take responsibility for the violations of the international border to make things clear," Lebanon Prime Minister Selim Al-Hoss said.
The verification of Israel's withdrawal has been the source of controversy and heated debate between Lebanon and the world body. It was in this atmosphere that Annan flew into Beirut on Monday, hoping to clear up what he termed as misunderstandings.
The highlight of Annan's visit to Beirut was his meeting on Tuesday with Nasrallah
"Let me make a number of things clear," Annan told reporters after meeting President Emile Lahoud and Hoss. "The UN has not been delineating or demarcating the border between Israel and Lebanon and Lebanon and Syria for that matter. This can only be done between states.
"But it was necessary for the UN to mark a withdrawal line, or so-called blue line, otherwise how else could we know whether or not Israel has withdrawn from the territory it has occupied in Lebanon since 1978," Annan said.
He made clear that "the line drawn by the UN is not the border and it does not prejudge eventual adjustments to Lebanon's international border in future negotiations."
Beirut was still not convinced. Lahoud's office insisted that border violations by Israel must be removed before UN peace-keepers can deploy further south.
"Lebanon considers the continued encroachments as meaning the Israeli withdrawal is incomplete," a presidential statement said.
While conceding that Israeli troops had transgressed the UN withdrawal line, Annan shied away from condemning the action outright. "When we drew the blue line, I insisted that Israel withdraw behind that line," Annan said. "The bulk of the Israeli forces have gone. There may still be encroachments here and there, a truck crossing here; those are the ones that should not be there. Any violation, any crossing of the blue line is a violation to be dealt with. Lebanon can report perceived violations to UNIFIL which will have to check and then report to the council. If we conclude there are violations, obviously we will ask Israel to withdraw."
The highlight of Annan's visit to Beirut, however, was his meeting on Tuesday with Hizbullah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah held at Annan's request. During the meeting, at Hizbullah's headquarters in Beirut's southern district, Nasrallah told the UN chief that his group would continue its struggle until the liberation of all Lebanese territory. Annan reportedly thanked the Hizbullah leaders for maintaining law and order in the south since Israel's pullout. The meeting was unlikely to have gone down well with the United States and Israel who consider Hizbullah an "enemy of peace."
Nasrallah also told Annan of the importance of releasing 20 Lebanese detained by Israel as a bargaining chip in its efforts to release an Israeli pilot, Ron Arad, whose plane was shot down during the Lebanese civil war. Arad is believed held by either Hizbullah or Iran.
Annan was met upon arrival in Beirut by a demonstration of the family of the detainees and their children. He promised to bring up the issue in his meeting with Israeli officials.
Before his arrival, the UN chief and the international body came under fierce criticism from the Lebanese government and media for "being biased toward Israel." Blared the pro-government daily Kifah Al-Arabi: "Lebanon Loses Border Battle with the United Nations."
But the more vociferous attacks were saved for UN special envoy Terje Roed-Larsen who surprisingly did not show up with Annan in Beirut. "Larsen played a negative role by neglecting to include in his report President Lahoud's message to Annan citing Lebanon's reservations," the widely circulated An-Nahar wrote.
Observers believe the "battle over the line" is actually tactical. "The fact that the secretary-general said that any future border adjustments could be a point of negotiation between Israel and Lebanon means that the international community is going to try to get the two sides to the table," a seasoned journalist who preferred to remain anonymous told the Weekly. "Israel withdrew without an agreement with Lebanon. These border violations may just be the pretext to get the two sides to reach some sort of accord in the near future."