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Israel Prepared to Agree to an Extension of Unifil

Israel is prepared to agree to a two-month extension of the mandate of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which is scheduled to expire January 14. Most of the countries contributing contingents to UNIFIL also want a two-month extension, in view of the uncertain situation in Lebanon. Lebanon itself would have preferred a six-month extension.

Last week Israel accused UNIFIL of laxity in preventing terrorists from infiltrating the areas it controls after nine Katyusha rocket-launchers were discovered in southern Lebanon in the zone patrolled by UNIFIL’s Ghanian contingent. They army disclosed that five of the launchers were aimed at Kiryat Shmona, the Israeli border town serving as a site for negotiations between Israel, Lebanon and the United States, and four of the launchers were aimed at an Israeli military base on the Lebanese coast.

The UN Undersecretary General, Brian Urquhart, has been visiting Syria, Lebanon and Israel. He was scheduled to meet with Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir in Jerusalem this evening.

MIXED RESPONSES TO CHANGED UNIFIL ROLE

Urquhart and U.S. special envoy Morris Draper have received, in separate conversations, mixed and hesitant responses from Israeli policymakers to the idea of UNIFIL being given a change of function in the context of an overall Lebanon settlement. It would be installed in the Palestinian refugee camps to protect the inhabitants following the ultimate withdrawal of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Syrian and Israeli troops from the country.

Israeli policymakers are anxious to remove UNIFIL from the projected 25-mile security zone in south Lebanon which includes the Ein Hilwe and Rashadiye camps near Sidon and Tyre, respectively.

The Israelis believe the UNIFIL presence in the zone would hamper rather than help future security, which Israel wants to be in the hands of Lebanese forces with its own army in a surveillance role.

The Israeli policymakers would view more favorably, however, the idea of UNIFIL moving into the Palestinian camps north of the zone, and especially in and around Tripoli where the Palestinians fear a massacre once the PLO leave the area. Some well-placed sources in Jerusalem indicate, though, that in the final analysis Israel might accept a revamped UNIFIL role, as protector of the refugee camps, extending through all of Lebanon.

LEBANON’S VIEW OF UNIFIL

The Lebanese government itself is reliably understood to want UNIFIL’s mandate extended so that the force can play a role in the context of an overall settlement. Lebanon has been canvassing support for the idea among the contributing states and among the permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Informed sources told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that Lebanon had virtually lost hope of being able to persuade the U.S. and others to increase the size of the multinational force, encamped in some areas of Beirut, and thus looked to UNIFIL to provide much-needed military presence in the country while efforts are made to reconstruct and train the sovereign Lebanese army.

NO PROGRESS ON AGENDA

Meanwhile, no progress was reported toward reaching an agenda as Israel, Lebanon and the United States ended their fifth negotiating session day at Khalde, south of Beirut. The talks will be resumed at Kiryat Shmona in Israel on Thursday.

According to reports, both sides are considering suggestions by the U.S. which might move forward talks on the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Leban on while at the same time satisfying Israel’s demand that normalized relations between the two countries be high on the agenda.

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