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Lebanon: a New Role for International Peacekeepers?


Lebanon has been pounded by outbreaks of violence and war throughout its recent history. In 1978, following years of tension along the country's border with Israel, the United Nations Security Council authorized the creation of a multinational force to help bring peace and security to the region. Now, the need for effective international peacekeeping is once again being discussed by diplomats.

Israeli bombs light up the night in Beirut. The damage and human suffering becomes visible by day.

In Israel, Hezbollah rockets slam ever deeper into the country, destroying structures and exacting their deadly toll on civilians.

The exchange of firepower is accompanied by a war of words. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah threatens to hit Tel Aviv if Israel does not cease its attacks on central Beirut. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert vows to continue pounding Hezbollah until an international force is in place.

All the while, diplomats seek a resolution to the conflict -- UN Secretary General Kofi Annan offers his ideas during an unrelated trip to Haiti, the majority leader of the Lebanese parliament confers with Russian officials in Moscow, and the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, meets with his French counterpart in New York.

France has insisted a cease-fire in Lebanon should precede deployment of an international force. The United States wants peacekeeping troops in place first, though Ambassador Bolton says American troops will not be part of that force. "That's never been in contemplation (U.S. contribution of troops), it's never, that's never been in our planning," said the ambassador.

In 1978, the United Nations created an interim force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL. The current head of the U.S. Central Military Command, General John Abizaid, served with UNIFIL in the 1980s. He told a Senate hearing Thursday that the U.N. force was not capable of fulfilling its mission to restore peace and security in Lebanon. General Abizaid said an outside force today will need what he referred to as "robust rules of engagement."

"Robust rules of engagement means that the commander has the ability to effect the mandate that's been given to him by the international community to include the use of all available means at his force's disposal,” said General Abizaid. “And I think, in the case of southern Lebanon, it'll have to have capabilities that are just not minor, small arms, but would include all arms."

General Abizaid said it is important for the armed forces of Lebanon to have a greater military capacity than Hezbollah, which has controlled the southern part of the country. The general said an international force could help the Lebanese military extend the nation's sovereignty to the south. He noted, however, that the extent of international involvement will depend on the decisions of diplomats.

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