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1. This is the ninth report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006). It provides a comprehensive assessment of the implementation of the resolution since the last report of the Secretary-General was issued on 18 November 2008 (S/2008/715).
2. During the first part of the reporting period, the military and security situation in the area of operations of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) remained stable. In late December 2008, tension in the area rose with the outbreak of the Gaza crisis. During that period, rockets were fired on two occasions from southern Lebanon towards Israel, and Israel responded with artillery fire. A possible third rocket attack was prevented by the Lebanese Armed Forces and UNIFIL. During the latter part of the reporting period, tension subsided; however, recent days saw a third rocket attack incident. UNIFIL maintained close liaison and coordination with the parties through the tripartite mechanism and bilateral channels.
3. In spite of these serious incidents, I am pleased to report that all parties continue to express their support for and commitment to the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006). This is illustrated by the measures taken by the parties to avoid further escalation and defuse a potentially destabilizing situation. These incidents, however, also highlight the precarious nature of the current cessation of hostilities and the necessity for both parties to take further steps to address a number of unresolved issues, described in detail in this report. These issues continue to hinder an agreement on a permanent ceasefire between Lebanon and Israel. Their resolution is required in order to move towards a permanent solution between the two countries.
4. The implementation of the agreement reached by Lebanese leaders at Doha in May 2008 has continued to ensure a period of relative calm in Lebanon. No major security incidents, other than the aforementioned rocket attacks, took place during the reporting period. In accordance with constitutional provisions, on 4 January 2009, the Minister of the Interior announced that the next parliamentary elections will be held on Sunday, 7 June. Continued progress in the bilateral relationship between Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic saw the Lebanese Government announce the name of its ambassador to the Syrian Arab Republic on 27 January 2009. For its part, the Syrian Arab Republic opened an embassy in Beirut in late December 2008. However, it has yet to appoint an ambassador to Lebanon. During the reporting period, the political situation in Israel was marked by the electoral campaign for the parliamentary elections held on 10 February.
II. Implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006)
A. Situation in the UNIFIL area of operations
5. The parties generally maintained respect for the Blue Line, with the notable exceptions of the rocket firings from southern Lebanon towards Israel and the retaliatory artillery fire by Israel. Daily intrusions into Lebanese airspace by Israeli aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles continued at a high level throughout the reporting period in violation of Lebanese sovereignty and resolution 1701 (2006), reaching their peak during the Gaza crisis. UNIFIL protested all violations. The Government of Lebanon continued to protest these overflights, which the Government of Israel maintained were necessary security measures, citing alleged lack of enforcement of the arms embargo.
III. Security and safety of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon
52. The security and safety of UNIFIL personnel remains a priority. During the Gaza crisis, the volatility of the overall security situation in southern Lebanon increased and, on a number of occasions, the Mission received specific threat warnings. UNIFIL and the Lebanese authorities and Lebanese Armed Forces have maintained their cooperation and joint efforts to ensure that security threats to UNIFIL are addressed appropriately. Notwithstanding the obligation of all parties to ensure the safety and security of UNIFIL and the responsibility of the Government of Lebanon for law and order, UNIFIL continues to review regularly its procedures and focuses on mitigating risk to its personnel, assets and installations, while ensuring mandate implementation.
56. Tension along the Blue Line increased substantially as a result of the rocket attacks at the time of the hostilities in Gaza. These attacks and the return fire strained the security and liaison arrangements established under resolution 1701 (2006) and endangered the cessation of hostilities agreement. This period was the most serious challenge for the parties and UNIFIL since the adoption of resolution 1701 (2006). I witnessed the heightened tension at first hand during a tour of the region in January which included visits to Israel, Lebanon and the Syrian Arab Republic. At the same time, I was encouraged by the measures that were taken by all parties to avoid an escalation. I believe that the mechanisms related to the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) have acted as an effective deterrent and prevented an escalation of the situation in southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, the fact that rockets were fired on 21 February is worrying.
62. In accordance with its obligations under resolution 1701 (2006), Israel must complete its withdrawal from southern Lebanon. In order to achieve this, the continued occupation by the Israel Defense Forces of the northern part of the village of Ghajar and the adjacent area north of the Blue Line must be ended. Inevitably, the Gaza crisis overshadowed attempts at making progress on the resolution of this issue. However, there were encouraging developments at a meeting held by my Special Coordinator and the UNIFIL Force Commander with Israeli officials on 8 February to discuss the implementation of the UNIFIL proposal for Ghajar. I renew my call on the parties to proceed on the basis of the UNIFIL proposal so as to facilitate the withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces in accordance with Israel’s obligations under resolution 1701 (2006).
68. I am concerned by the continued presence of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command and Fatah el Intifada military bases in Lebanon and the threat they pose to Lebanon’s stability. I call upon the Government of Lebanon to dismantle these military bases, as agreed upon in the National Dialogue, and on the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic, which has influence on these groups, to support fully efforts in this regard. I regret the unwillingness of the Syrian Arab Republic to engage on the issue as conveyed to my Special Coordinator by senior officials in Damascus on 11 February.
73. Without prejudice to the settlement of the Palestinian refugee question in the context of a comprehensive peace agreement, it is imperative that progress be made without delay in taking concrete and practical steps, including new legislation, to improve the conditions in which Palestinian refugees live in Lebanon. I commend the steps already taken by the Government of Lebanon in this regard. Yet, I urge it to persevere in its efforts and do more. Similarly, while I thank donor countries that have responded generously to the appeals issued by the Government of Lebanon and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East for the reconstruction of the Nahr el-Bared refugee camp and adjacent affected Lebanese communities, I reiterate my appeal for additional contributions, which are urgently required.