U.N. Force In Lebanon: Can Promises of Peace Be Fulfilled?
TOULINE, Lebanon (AP) _ Shiite Muslim women in black veils showered the U.N. peace force commander with rice and rose petals. School children ran laughing along the road. Tobacco and wheat farmers in rubber boots applauded.
The outburst of joy came after Maj. Gen. Trond Furuhovde of Norway vowed to make it his personal campaign to halt to Israeli shelling of the village.
″I was nearby and I saw the village shelled by the Israeli side. I saw it with my own eyes. I told the Israelis I will not accept this,″ the officer told village leaders. ″I can assure you that I will work hard and do my best to make the situation better.″
Despite such promises, the 5,800-member, 10-nation U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon is lightly armed and can do little against the elusive Hezbollah or the howitzers and tanks of Israel.
As a peacemaker, UNIFIL has fared no better in separating intractable enemies than U.N. forces in Bosnia or Somalia and like the other forces has often been caught in the middle.
Since the force was created 15 years ago, 195 U.N. soldiers have been killed, scores wounded and others kidnapped.
The mission of supervising Israel’s withdrawal from the security zone and helping the Lebanese army take control remains unfulfilled.
UNIFIL has had less success in shielding villages from attack than in providing community services. U.N. soldiers build soccer fields, distribute water, arrange garbage disposal and defuse bombs left on the battlefields.
Residents of Touline believe they get some measure of protection from U.N. presence, and have asked for night patrols and escorts for farmers to go to their fields.
But at the village mosque some residents confronted Furuhovde with their frustration over the persistent daily shelling, driving some residents from their homes and keeping farmers from their fields.
″Our daily bread is the shelling. You can hear the children screaming and the women crying,″ said Ali Awali Munif, a village elder. ″When can we expect results?″
The Israeli army maintains that Touline, like other villages, is fired on after Hezbollah uses the outskirts of the village to shoot at Israeli forces.
Hezbollah, or Party of God, is an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim faction that wants to create an Islamic republic in Lebanon.
″If peace is kept, if the villagers will not give shelter to members of Hezbollah and if there will be no firing from Touline, then the residents of that village will also enjoy peace and tranquility,″ said Lt. Col. Yehuda Weinraub, an Israeli army spokesman.
The main war in southern Lebanon, which has raged since Israel set up a buffer zone north of the border in 1985, is between Israeli forces and Islamic fundamentalists or Palestinian dissidents backed by Iran and Syria.
Last year, U.N. figures show, attacks increased threefold and the casualties were the highest ever: 28 Israelis and 17 allied militiamen were killed along with 45 Arab guerrillas.
When Israel conducted a weeklong blitz on the south in July, Lebanese police said at least 126 people were killed and that more than one-tenth of Lebanon’s population, or about 500,000 people, fled their homes.
Hezbollah, which also vows to reclaim Jerusalem for Muslims and rejects the idea of making peace with Israel, demands an end to Israel’s occupation. Also involved are Syrian-based Palestinian factions opposed to the Israel-PLO agreement.
Israel contends that in a political vacuum only its forces can protect the northern border and sponsors a 3,000-member militia of mostly Lebanese Christians. Israel has offered to withdraw if the Lebanese army deploys in the area, disarms Hezbollah and maintains calm for six months.
Uri Lubrani, Israel’s coordinator of Lebanon policy, said in an interview U.N. forces lacked the mandate to arrest attackers and that infiltrators could easily circumvent U.N. checkpoints.
″They take away arms at checkposts and give them back later on. That’s no way to deal with terrorists,″ he said, adding that U.N. forces only contribute about 25 percent of their security needs.
Driving through the sector controlled by the Ghanaian peacekeepers, there are reminders of the complexity of life in southern Lebanon, where more than one war is being fought.
In Khirbit Silim, a village just south of Touline, a pile of concrete slabs is all that is left of a building bombed by Israel in a major battle with Hezbollah last July. The pictures of five men killed in the fighting are mounted in the town square near posters of Iranian religious leaders.
But there is also a twisted, charred chassis, the work of a Hezbollah car bomb aimed at a supporter of the more moderate Shiite Muslim group Amal. The two groups are fighting over turf and tactics.
″There are Amal and Hezbollah supporters in every village,″ said Maj. Godwin Mahuny of Ghana, driving past walls on which there were green Amal posters defaced with red spray paint by Hezbollah supporters.