JERUSALEM (Jun. 13)
Israel has apparently rejected a United Nations plan to extend UN peacekeeping activities in south Lebanon to the Israeli border.
Defense Ministry sources said tonight that Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin told UN Undersecretary General Brian Urquhart, at a meeting in Rabin’s office in Tel Aviv, that Israel would not agree to the deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the border zone. He reportedly insisted that UNIFIL confine its activities to the region north of the security belt in south Lebanon.
The security belt is patrolled by the Israel-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) with support by the Israel Defense Force. Military correspondents suggested yesterday that Israel might be willing to agree to a UNIFIL presence close to the international border in the coastal region in exchange for UNIFIL recognition of the SLA.
UNIFIL has consistently refused to recognize the Israel-backed, largely Christian SLA although it recognizes the Shiite Moslem militia, Amal and other non-governmental armed groups in south Lebanon. This has long been a bone of contention between the Israelis and the UN force.
ISRAEL RECEIVES UN PROPOSALS
There were reports yesterday and earlier today that Israel was considering a UN plan to expand UNIFIL’s peacekeeping role in south Lebanon and allow Amal to play a part, while continuing its support of the SLA.
David Kimche, Director General of the Foreign Ministry, met yesterday with the envoys of countries which contribute troops to UNIFIL, several members of the UN Security Council among them. He reportedly informed the envoys that “various proposals” have been advanced by the UN with respect to security in south Lebanon and indicated they were under consideration.
Defense establishment sources said yesterday that Premier Shimon Peres and Rabin were considering a plan for UNIFIL to recognize the SLA in exchange for which Israel would agree to the gradual deployment of UNIFIL southward to the international border in coordination with Amal. This plan was to be implemented experimentally in an area near the Mediterranean coast not contiguous to the Israel border and, if successful, would be extended southward and eastward.
But the report of Rabin’s meeting with Urquhart appeared to negate this. One problem is that Amal is hostile to Israel and until now has refused direct contacts with the Israelis. Amal leaders assert however that they are as much opposed as the Israelis are to the return of Palestine Liberation Organization fighters to south Lebanon where the Shiites comprise the majority of the population.
Israel does not believe Amal has the capability to keep the border zone free of terrorists. It does not control the extremist Shiite group, Hizbollah (Army of God) which was responsible for suicide attacks on the IDF in south Lebanon in recent months.
ISRAEL WANTS SLA INTACT
For that reason, Israel is determined to keep the SLA intact for the foreseeable future and reserves the right to send IDF units into Lebanon should terrorists threaten towns in Galilee.
Kimche also told the envoys that while Israel backs the SLA it cannot dictate to it and therefore is unable to secure the immediate release of 20 Finnish soldiers of UNIFIL who were taken prisoner by the SLA last week. The SLA charges that the Finns disarmed II of their men and handed them over to Amal.
Kimche repeated Israel’s assurances that no harm would come to the Finnish soldiers. He said Israel was “exerting its influence” for their speedy release.
UNIFIL representatives visited the Finnish troops held by the SLA this week. Today they visited the II SLA soldiers held captive by Amal. The committee set up by UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar is trying to unravel the charges and countercharges to determine who is responsible for the incident.
IDF SHOOTS DOWN SYRIAN DRONE
Meanwhile, an SLA unit fired seven mortar shells into the Shiite village of Ya’atar on the fringe of the security zone last night, reportedly in response to Katyusha rockets fired at the SLA from the village. One building in Ya’atar was destroyed but there were no casualties, according to reports.
In an unrelated incident today, the IDF shot down an unmanned Syrian observation plane over the Israel-Lebanon border zone. The military spokesman who made the announcement gave no further details.