Lebanese Army to send 1,500 more troops to south
From The Morning Star (Lebanon):
BEIRUT/ SIDON: The Lebanese Army will deploy an additional 1,500 troops in the south, almost a month after a spate of attacks against UN peacekeeping troops in the area, France’s ambassador in Beirut said on Monday.
“I just met [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri and we discussed the UNIFIL issue,” Dennis Pietton announced following talks at the Grand Serail. “Hariri informed me about the deployment of a complete Brigade of the Lebanese Army in south Lebanon starting today.”
A Brigade equates to roughly 1,500 additional troops, who will be tasked with improving coordination with UNIFIL troops on patrols in villages and close to the Blue Line.
Referring to the new development, Pietton said it is “news that we hoped to hear because it is important to support Lebanese troops in the south, in accordance with [UN Security Council] Resolution 1701 at the time of its implementation.
“This step announced by the Lebanese government is a positive development which will be met with praise by Lebanon’s partner in UNIFIL,” he added.
Earlier this month, two patrols undertaken by UNIFIL’s French contingent were attacked by angry residents, who hurled eggs and stones, injuring at least three peacekeepers. In one incident, a UNIFIL patrol leader was accosted and was disarmed of his weapon.
The attacks prompted a wave of domestic and international reaction, with Beirut-based ambassadors and UN officials, both in Lebanon an New York, demanding that UNIFIL be allowed full freedom of movement in its mandated operations area.
UNIFIL heads were forced to undertake a series of reconciliation meetings with local mayors, mukhtars and representatives of several of the south’s villages.
Defense Minister Elias Murr had announced that more Lebanese Army soldiers would be mobilized in the south following the attacks, but did not specify numbers
A security source in south Lebanon told The Daily Star that the deployment of extra Army troops would continue for the next few days.
“The region, from north Abu al-Osood to the south of Tyre, going through the south Litani crossing in Qasmieh, will be under the control of the 8th [Lebanese Army] Brigade, with more than 1,500 soldiers deployed on a permanent basis,” one official said. The source added that previously installed Army troops numbered just 400, hailing from the 6th and 7th brigades. It said that the 5th brigade would monitor the West Sector of UNIFIL’s mandate area, from the coastal cities of Tyre and Naqoura, along the Blue Line to Marjayoun.
“This deployment will be sufficient when it comes to the number of soldiers in the sector,” it said and added that all additional troops would be fully operational in the south by late August.
Pietton, after meeting Hariri, confirmed that several prominent French officials would be heading to Beirut in the near future.
“We discussed the regional situation and potential future visits by important heads of state to Beirut. It was a comprehensive discussion,” he said.