Monday, October 16, 2006

Lebanon's top Shi'ite cleric: UN force only protects Israel

By Reuters

"BEIRUT - Lebanon's top Shi'ite Muslim cleric said on Monday a reinforced international force on the Lebanese border was only there to protect Israel.

Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah said United Nations peacekeepers were doing little to stop Israeli violations of Lebanon's sovereignty and urged the Lebanese to treat the force, UNIFIL, with caution.

"The widening of the scope of Israeli violations in the south and other areas in Lebanon and their repetition within the sight and hearing range of UNIFIL forces that don't interfere to stop these violations... affirm that these forces have come here to protect Israel not Lebanon," a statement from Fadlallah said.

"Therefore, it is the Lebanese people's right to put a question mark over its (UN force) role and to be cautious towards it in order to deal with it in a way that would protect Lebanon's security and peace."

Israel Defense Forces soldiers withdrew from virtually all of south Lebanon on October 1 but Israeli jets continue to fly over Lebanon.

Lebanon and UNIFIL say overflights violate Lebanese sovereignty and breach the UN resolution. But Israel has said the overflights would continue to help ensure that arms supplies do not reach Hezbollah from Syria.

Israel has also not withdrawn from a small area of southern Lebanon which straddles the border between Lebanon and territory Israel captured from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

Lebanon has since threatened to complain to the UN Security Council unless Israel leaves the Lebanese part of the Ghajar village.

Statements such as that of German Chancellor Angela Merkel who linked Berlin's decision to send a naval force to prevent Hezbollah from rearming by sea with Germany's "special responsibility for Israel's right to exist", have also upset many Lebanese politicians and officials."

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