PM Hariri directly supervises probe on incident of international airport infiltrator

Politicians call on government to bear its responsibilities, reveal derelict persons

Lebanon asserts it sticks to UN Security Council resolution 1701

Hariri in Damascus Sunday to review bilateral agreements with Syria

The UN Security Council resolution that ended the war that broke out between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah four years ago this week has helped to ensure stability, but the parties must do more to meet their commitments, a senior United Nations official said here Wednesday.

"Stated commitment is good, implementation in practice is better," UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams told reporters following his closed-door briefing to the Council.

He said he welcomed the continued commitment of all parties to the full implementation of resolution 1701, which ended the conflict that erupted in 2006, as well as calls for respect for the so-called Blue Line separating the Israeli and Lebanese sides, the disarming of all militias operating in Lebanon and an end to arms smuggling in the area.

"But I also told the Council that all parties must do far more to meet their obligations," he said, echoing what UN Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon wrote in his latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701, which was made public here Tuesday.

In his report, Ban stated that a number of violations occurred during the past several months and that "no progress was recorded with regard to key obligations" under the resolution.

The secretary-general stressed that it is the responsibility of the parties to focus on all outstanding issues so that they can reach a permanent ceasefire and a long-term solution, as envisaged in the resolution. "At the moment, they are not doing enough in this regard," he said.

Williams, who briefed the 15-member body on the report, noted that the arrangements put in place by the resolution have allowed the longest period of stability between the parties since the 1970s.

"No one on either side of the Blue Line has been killed by hostile military action from the other side in the past four years,” he said.

He added that the presence of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and its cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) has been the "backbone" of everything that has been achieved under resolution 1701.

UNIFIL personnel have recently been the target of protests and attacks by villagers in southern Lebanon in response to routine military exercises carried out by the mission.

Both the UN special coordinator and the Security Council have called for ensuring the safety and freedom of movement of the peacekeepers in their area of operations, which is critical for discharging their mandate.

The United Nations envoy to Lebanon said on Wednesday he believed the trouble between UN peacekeepers and villagers in south Lebanon that has led to confrontations in recent weeks had now been resolved.

Earlier this month, villagers seized weapons from French troops serving as part of the UNIFIL and wounded their patrol leader.

That followed a series of standoffs or clashes in the border area, a stronghold of the Hezbollah, and complaints that UNIFIL had stepped up its patrols and was failing to coordinate with Lebanese army forces in the region.

“I can confirm that the situation in the south is now much better, that I believe that calm and stability have been returned,” Williams told reporters after briefing the UN Security Council in New York.

Williams said he and UNIFIL commander Major General Alberto Asarta had met Lebanese political and military leaders, including from Hezbollah. “In the course of those meetings, we heard … that they … would do everything possible to prevent a recurrence of those incidents,” he said.

Williams welcomed a decision by the Lebanese Cabinet last week to reinforce the Lebanese Army presence in the south.

Some 2,500-3,000 extra soldiers are expected to join the estimated 7,000 already there.

In its weekly session on Wednesday, the Lebanese Cabinet approved a demand by the Foreign Ministry to extend the mandate of the UNIFIL until August, 31, 2011.

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 and expanded in 2006 to monitor the end of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah. It currently has some 12,000 troops.

Villagers in south Lebanon have blamed French peacekeepers for the recent confrontations, saying their patrols had become provocative and intrusive, including taking photographs of people inside their houses. Some Western diplomats say Hezbollah was involved, a charge the group denies.

Williams declined to speculate on what had caused the trouble, saying only that many factors were involved.

The UN envoy also said he hoped for a new approach to try to bring about an Israeli withdrawal from a Lebanese part of a village Israeli forces are occupying.

Ghajar, which has a population of about 2,000, straddles Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights, but Israel currently occupies both parts.

Williams, who expressed hopes a year ago that Israel would be out of the northern, Lebanese part of Ghajar in a few months, said on Wednesday the negotiations with Israel were “taking too long.”

“We discussed in [the Security] Council new ways that we might approach that and I hope we can do so in the coming weeks,” he said, without giving details.

Meanwhile, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said France would keep its forces in south Lebanon “because they are essential for the country’s independence and stability.”

His remarks came during the annual military parade on France’s National Day celebrated on July 14.

Also, and following his meeting with Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh on Thursday, Spanish Ambassador Juan Carlos Gafo expressed the importance of increasing the number of Lebanese Army soldiers deployed in south Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported.

“UNIFIL troops need to have more freedom of movement according to UN Security Council Resolution 1701, in addition to increased cooperation between UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army,” the ambassador said.

He added that the recent anti-UNIFIL protests affect the relations between southerners and peacekeepers.

Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is to lead a delegation to Damascus during the weekend to discuss bilateral affairs, his office said.

Hariri is heading a ministerial delegation to Damascus to discuss counter-narcotics, legal issues and broad-based cultural affairs, Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper report.

Hussein Hassan, the agriculture minister from Hezbollah, is to accompany the prime minister on the official visit.

Hariri described a December meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad as a sign that "new horizons" were emerging in bilateral ties.

That trip was Hariri's first since the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the current prime minister's father. The prime minister, along with several Lebanese lawmakers and many in the international community, have claimed Syria played a role in the assassination.

Damascus denies the allegations.

Syrian and Lebanese relations improved when the countries exchanged ambassadors in 2009.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Hariri chaired on Tuesday a meeting at the Rafik Hariri International Airport during which he discussed with ministers and security officials means to enhance services at the terminal.

Following the meeting, Hariri toured the air traffic control tower as well as a number of halls in the airport.

Also after the meeting, Public Works and Transportation Minister Ghazi Aridi held a news conference during which he announced what has been tackled during the meeting.

The meeting was attended by Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud, Aridi, Sports and Youth Minister Ali Abdullah, Public Health Minister Mohammad Jawad Khalifeh, Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, Finance Minister Raya al-Hassan, Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal and Expatriates and Foreign Affairs Minister Ali Shami.

Also, Director General of Civil Aviation Hamdi Shawq, head of Council of Development and Reconstruction Nabil Jisr were also present.

The attendees studied plans, projects and proposals to enhance services at the airport through improving the regulatory authority’s performance and adopting international standards to ensure the security of aviation.

Placing cameras along the fence surrounding the airport, proposals to improve utilities at the facility as well as measures to protect civil aviation and ease the accommodation of tourists were also discussed during the meeting.

The meeting came a few days after airport workers in Riyadh found a human body on the landing gear of a flight from Beirut early Saturday, after a man apparently tried to hitch a ride on the plane.

The body was discovered when a maintenance worker went to inspect the right rear landing gear of the Airbus 320 after it landed at Riyadh’s King Khaled International Airport on the flight from Lebanon, the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation said in a statement.

Nas Air flight XY 720 took off from Beirut airport late Friday and landed Saturday morning in the Saudi capital.

The body was identified as that of Firas Haidar, 20, from the southern village of Markaba in the qada of Marjayoun.

Haidar, who was said to have been suffering from psychological problems, lived in the Beirut suburb of Burj al-Barajneh near the airport.

Interior Baroud chaired Tuesday a meeting for the Central Internal Security Council that was attended by top security officials.

Commander of the Internal Security Forces Major General Ashraf Rifi, State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza, Director General of the General Security Major General Wafiq Jezzini along with acting Governor of the North and Beirut Governorates Nassif Qaloush were attending.

The council discussed the latest findings of the ongoing investigations into the plane’s incident.

The council decided to forward a recommendation to Hariri to form a committee tasked with checking on all security measures taken at the airport to determine any flaws and propose suitable solutions.

The airport security committee is to comprise of representatives from all the concerned ministries and administrations and is supposed to perform its task within one week after assuming its duties.

In other news, the interior minister granted the chief of security at Rafik Hariri International Airport Brigadier Wafiq Choucair a one-month leave and would take a final decision regarding his resignation request after the conclusion of judicial investigations.

Reports said that Choucair had been replaced by Elia Obeid who became the acting security chief in the airport.

Choucair submitted on Monday a report to Baroud including investigations about the airport’s incident with a request to accept his resignation.

An earlier decision by former Premier Fouad Siniora to sack Choucair from his post along with dismantling Hezbollah’s telecommunications network sparked armed clashes in Beirut and the Chouf between government supporters and pro-Hezbollah fighters in May 2008.

Calm was restored in the country following a Qatari-brokered accord – the Doha accord – that led to the election of army commander General Michel Sleiman as president of Lebanon along with the implementation of other items.

Also, the council tasked the airport security apparatus with beefing up security measures due to the increasing number of people visiting Lebanon via the airport.

Progressive Socialist Party leader lawmaker Walid Jumblatt praised in a statement on Tuesday Choucair’s move, saying that “it is a precedence in Lebanon that a security official voluntarily resigns.”

Jumblatt described what happened in 2008 regarding Choucair’s sacking as a “misunderstanding.”