WASHINGTON – The Obama Administration said it does not hold the power to expand UNIFIL's authority in south Lebanon.
Addressing the recent explosion at an arms cache in south Lebanon, US Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice told the House of Representative's Foreign Affairs Committee that while UNIFIL enjoys limited power in the Arab country, its presence still has some value.
Next month the Security Council is set to discuss the extension of UNIFIL's mandate in south Lebanon. Some 12,000 peacekeepers are stationed there.
Rice told the committee she does believe the Security Council would support expanding UNIFIL's authority in a bid to counter Hezbollah's increased presence in south Lebanon.
Last week Israeli Ambassador to the UN Gabriela Shalev said recent incidents in Lebanon, including the explosion at a Hezbollah weapons cache, have verified that the Shiite group "consistently obstructs the implementation of Resolution 1701 by building new military infrastructure south of the Litani River."
In a letter of complaint addressed to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Security Council President Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda, Shalev also mentioned the attack on UNIFIL peacekeepers who attempted to search a suspicious building near the arms cache as an indication that Hezbollah was looking to "obstruct" UNIFIL's mission, also by "using civilians in a violent manner."
The Israeli ambassador also complained about the recent infiltration of 15 unarmed Lebanese civilians into Israel, during which UNIFIL "refrained from taking any action to prevent the crossing of these individuals into Israeli territory.
"Some of the organizers of this violation even claimed that they had coordinated their actions with UNIFIL," she stated.
According to the current mandate, UNIFIL is permitted to operate south of the Litani River in coordination with the Lebanese army, but not independently.
Rice told the committee members that UNIFIL failed to properly investigate the blast at the weapons reserve because it lacks the authority to apply force, adding that according to information relayed to the Security Council, the arms cache belonged to Hezbollah.
She said this proves that weapons are continuing to flow into Lebanon and underscores the need for UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war between Israel and the Shiite group in the summer of 2006.