By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, August 21, 2006
JERUSALEM, Aug. 20 -- Israel on Sunday objected to including countries that do not have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in the nascent peacekeeping force for Lebanon, even as a U.N. envoy said the Lebanese army had fielded only 3,000 troops, about one-fifth of the force it plans to enforce the cease-fire in the south.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert raised his opposition to the participation of such countries at a cabinet meeting, a government official said. The list would include the Muslim countries of Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh, which are among the few nations that have pledged troops to the international force that is supposed to work with the Lebanese army to enforce the truce put in place after the five-week war.
"Israel has raised our concerns about having participants in the force that we cannot talk to," a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said Sunday evening. "The idea that you could have forces on our border from countries that we could not talk to, that we couldn't coordinate with, would cause problems."
In addition, Regev said, Malaysia recently hosted an Islamic conference that included calls for Israel to be "wiped off the map."
"We didn't hear any word on that from the hosts, Malaysia," he said. "How can they be a peacekeeper if they do not disavow those comments?"
Israeli officials acknowledged that the country does not have veto power over the composition of the force. But its objections will complicate the U.N. effort to gather 15,000 peacekeeping soldiers from other countries to work with an equivalent force from the Lebanese army to separate Hezbollah and Israeli combatants.
The forces are the central mechanism in the agreement that ended 33 days of fighting in which more than 1,000 civilians were killed. France, which vigorously advocated creation of the force, has offered fewer than 400 troops. Other countries, too, have been wary of pledging soldiers. [France called for a meeting of European Union countries this week to determine the number of troops they are prepared to contribute to the expanded U.N. peacekeeping force, the Associated Press reported Sunday night.]
U.N. envoy Terje Roed-Larsen, speaking Sunday in Beirut before traveling to Israel, sought to put a positive light on the Lebanese army's move into southern Lebanon while waiting for international reinforcements. The Lebanese were taking control of southern Lebanon "in a forceful and massive way," he said. "Lebanon is now forcefully establishing its authority."
But Roed-Larsen said that only 3,000 Lebanese troops have been deployed in the south. About 2,000 Lebanese troops are now at the Syrian border, and another 1,000 are on the Mediterranean coast, he said. He warned that the cease-fire "can easily start sliding again and lead us quickly into the abyss of violence and bloodshed."
Israel continued overflights of Lebanon Sunday, despite Lebanese protests. Israel also has not fully withdrawn its forces from southern Lebanon or lifted its sea blockade.
Israel insisted Sunday that it has the right to attack Hezbollah forces, as it did in a raid Saturday morning, to prevent the militia from rearming in violation of the cease-fire. Lebanese officials condemned the raid and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said it "endangers the fragile calm" in the region.
"The Lebanese are yet to carry out the resolution and are saying that Hezbollah will not be disarmed and that it can hide its weapons," the Israeli housing and construction minister, Meir Sheetrit, said after the cabinet met in Jerusalem. "What are we supposed to do? Sit idly and wait for Hezbollah to rearm?"
More than 100 Israeli commandos landed by helicopter in the Bekaa Valley early Saturday, wearing Lebanese army uniforms. Hezbollah discovered the group in a field, and a firefight broke out. One Israeli officer was killed and another was seriously wounded.
Israeli defense officials said the raid was an effort to intercept shipments to Hezbollah from Syria. Some Lebanese have said the commandos may have been sent to try to abduct a Hezbollah official.
Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Murr warned that no group should give Israel a pretext to strike again. He said that any faction, including Hezbollah and Palestinian groups, "would be considered collaborating with Israel" if it fired rockets into Israel, prompting another strike.
Murr insisted that Hezbollah was committed to the cease-fire that ended the fighting in southern Lebanon, despite the Israeli raid. There was no public statement from Hezbollah.
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, inspecting the war damage in Beirut, called the devastation "a crime against humanity committed by Israel."