South Lebanon: UNIFIL Evacuates Staff’s Families

Peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrol along the Lebanese-Israeli border on 23 August 2013 in Adaysseh after the Israeli air force launched a rocket toward a Palestinian group in Lebanon. (Photo: AFP – Mahmoud Zayyat)
Published Friday, August 30, 2013
Al-Akhbar has learned that Hezbollah has declared a state of general alert in its ranks. The Resistance decided to elevate its personnel’s readiness levels and take all necessary steps to ensure the preparedness of its combat units across all its deployment locations, including Syria.
The Resistance initiated its measures quietly, amid extensive efforts by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to keep tabs on its actions.UNIFIL’s command notified its foreign staff on Wednesday evening, August 28, of its intention to evacuate their families residing in Lebanon. Sources in the UN peacekeeping mission in South Lebanon had insisted up until yesterday evening that UNIFIL commander Gen. Paulo Sierra had not signed the evacuation order. However, a senior official in the political affairs department told a number of Lebanese security officials that UNIFIL would begin evacuating their families via Beirut International Airport by next Sunday.In an internal memo circulated to its staff on the matter, UNIFIL’s command stopped short of explaining the direct reason for the evacuation. However, this can hardly be seen in isolation from regional developments linked to the Syrian conflict and Western threats to conduct a military strike against Syria.

Indeed, sources in the UN force said the decision was part of preemptive measures implemented by UN missions around the world to protect their personnel in the event of major security incidents. This means that the UN mission may have received secret information concerning Western intentions in Syria.

Informed sources said that Gen. Sierra alone was authorized to approve a decision of this kind, in his capacity as head of the peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon. Such a decision, the sources continued, can be taken only after Sierra consults with his military and civilian aides, but also with the representative of the UN secretary general in Lebanon and the embassies of the countries that have troops serving with UNIFIL, such as Italy, France, and Spain.

In all cases, the people of South Lebanon and the members of UNIFIL themselves cannot be convinced that this decision is merely preemptive. It is a “dangerous decision,” the sources said.
A number of theories are on the minds of those concerned in the south: Is this the model for how UNIFIL intends to deal with fateful events in the region? Will UNIFIL stop with the evacuation of the families of foreign personnel, or will it go on to reduce the number of its troops?

Furthermore, has UNIFIL or the embassies of its member states in Lebanon received certain indications about the coming period in Syria, and does UNIFIL fear the repercussions of a possible strike against Syria that might not be limited in scope, as the West is suggesting? Or is the decision to evacuate merely a reflection of the UN’s confusion over Hezbollah’s silence regarding Western threats of war in Syria – with the Israelis also doing their part by putting their forces on alert along their northern border?

No matter the motives, the UN decision once again reveals just how badly UNIFIL understands the nature and spirit of its mission in South Lebanon. Once again, UNIFIL is acting as though it is a political party to regional or local crises, rather than a peacekeeping mission.

Despite successive security incidents in the region, UNIFIL’s area of operation has almost always remained calm. So, what is the UNIFIL afraid of exactly?

In the past few hours, the UN’s foreign staff in the south, especially in Sour and its suburbs, have rushed to withdraw money to ensure they have enough cash for any eventuality, while many of them were seen stocking up on food and supplies.

In the middle of all this, it is interesting to note that UNIFIL’s security measures remain unchanged. UNIFIL command is yet to raise the level of preparedness and alert for its units and patrols.
Interestingly, the commander of the south Litani region in the Lebanese army called a meeting on Thursday to discuss ways to confront any emergency. In the past, UNIFIL, civil defense, or municipalities would have their own meetings to deal with certain disasters in the region. But this was the first time that the army called for such a meeting in which mayors, security leaders, officers from UNIFIL, and civil defense participated, to coordinate a response to some kind of emergency.
Meanwhile, the UN Security Council has extended UNIFIL’s mandate in Lebanon until August 2014, and urged Israel to withdraw its troops from the village of northern Ghaja without further delay.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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