(JNS) At the monthly U.N. Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian file, the U.N.’s Special Envoy for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland warned about increasing Hezbollah activity on Israel’s northern border.
Wennesland claimed on Aug. 25 that there were at least four border-area firing ranges observed in regular use in southern Lebanon over the last few months. The area is administered by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), whose mandate is expected to be renewed within days. While Wennesland did not say who is operating the ranges, the terrorist group Hezbollah controls southern Lebanon.
Tensions between Israel and Lebanon over disputed natural-gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea and progress in U.S.-brokered negotiations between the two countries regarding disputed maritime borders have analysts concerned that Hezbollah may take further action to sabotage the negotiations.
In July, the IDF said it downed three unarmed Hezbollah drones launched at the Karish gas rig. On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned Hezbollah that any attack on its gas fields could lead to war. The warning followed the terror group’s threat to “sever” Israel’s hands if it extracts gas from the site.
Wennesland did not expand on his comments regarding the firing ranges or any specific incidents that have restricted UNIFIL’s movement.
Israel has repeatedly sounded the alarm about the growing number of Hezbollah outposts near the so-called “Blue Line”—a U.N. demarcation line drawn in 2000 upon Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon that is part of a current border dispute between the two countries.
Hezbollah has claimed the outposts are controlled by an environmental NGO. At the same time, Lebanon deems much of the border area private property, further limiting UNIFIL’s freedom to patrol and report on border-area violations of U.N. resolutions.
Much of the rest of the U.N. meeting was focused on the financial plight of UNRWA—the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees—and Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as connected to the terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, leading to their closure by Israeli security forces.
The Commissioner-General of UNRWA Philippe Lazzarini testified that his agency will not be able to cover what has become a perennial $100 million shortfall and pleaded with U.N. member states to restore previous funding levels. UNRWA’s mission, ostensibly to serve Palestinian refugees from the 1948 invasion of the nascent State of Israel by various Arab armies, has drawn criticism for its unique labeling of all descendants of the original refugees as refugees themselves regardless of birthplace or current citizenship status.
UNRWA has also come under fire for mishandling finances, the incitement against Israel and Jews regularly found in the textbooks used in its schools and the hateful rhetoric often voiced by its employees. These issues have led a number of countries and organizations to cut their donations to the agency.
Lazzarini also complained to the Security Council that “shifting geopolitical priorities, regional dynamics and the emergence of new humanitarian crises have deprioritized the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He voiced concern about “coordinated campaigns to delegitimize UNRWA with a view to erode the rights of Palestine refugees [that] are increasing in frequency and in maliciousness.”
Representatives from the United States, France, the United Kingdom, Albania, Ghana, Ireland, Norway and the United Arab Emirates displayed varying levels of concern regarding Israel’s closure of the six Palestinian NGOs.
Ghana was the lone country to note the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey. Ghanaian Ambassador Harold Agyeman said he hoped the move would “help to strengthen regional stability and support the renewal of the dialogue required by the parties towards the achievement of the two-state solution.”
The U.S. and U.K. both condemned recent Palestinian terror attacks in Jerusalem near the Western Wall. British Ambassador James Kariuki said his country was “appalled” by the shooting attack on an Israeli bus on Aug. 14 that injured eight people, including several Americans.
“The U.K. unequivocally condemns any and all acts of terrorism,” said Kariuki. “Our thoughts are with the victims and families of those affected. We reiterate our unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”