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Lebanon Urges UN to Extend Term of Peacekeeping Force

Lebanon is asking the United Nations to extend the term of an interim peacekeeping force, following clashes between Hezbollah militia and Israeli forces over the past three days along a disputed border area separating the two countries.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (l) talks to Lebanese Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud
Foreign Minister Mahmoud Hammoud is calling on U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to extend the mandate for the United Nations peacekeeping mission operating in southern Lebanon for six more months.

The interim force first arrived in Lebanon in 1978 to monitor the withdrawal of Israeli troops under Security Council Resolution 425. Mr. Hammoud says that resolution has not been fully implemented because he claims Israel is still occupying the disputed region of Shebaa Farms.

Fighting between Hezbollah militia and Israeli forces flared up on Wednesday when an Israeli soldier was killed by Hezbollah, which the United States considers to be a terrorist organization. Israel retaliated with air strikes.

Israel says its forces opened fire on Lebanese Hezbollah militants.

The vice president of the political branch of Hezbollah, Kotami Mahmoud, claimed Israel initiated the fighting and the Lebanese militia was resisting.

He says peace in the border regions with Israel is not possible until the Shebaa Farms region is, in his words, "liberated from occupation."

The U.N. issued a statement condemning the recent violence, and calling on the Lebanese government to extend greater control over its territory, after Israel's U.N. ambassador filed a protest with the Security Council.

The U.N. is also pushing for full implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559, passed last year, which calls for the disbanding and disarming of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias.

Mr. Mahmoud says Hezbollah will hold onto their weapons and that the recent parliamentary elections is a sign of support from Lebanese people for them to do so. The re-elected parliamentary speaker, Nabih Berri, in a speech this week, indicated his support for Hezbollah to remain armed, and said disarmament is an issue for the Lebanese government.