Check Against Delivery
It is fair to say that Lebanon is facing an unprecedented challenge. It is a country that has faced challenges for many years. We have been discussing its security challenges many times. But since October last year, this has been further complicated by the economic crisis and the increasingly violent protests. For a few weeks, this has been further complicated by the implications of COVID-19.
We feel that Lebanon is facing challenges to the political leadership and stability of the country. We acknowledge the efforts that the government of Prime Minister Diab has taken so far. And it was good to hear in the briefings that a comprehensive economic reform plan has been adopted by the government. It was also reassuring to hear that the response to the COVID-19 crisis taken by the government has been a major achievement in the last two months. That is certainly positive and very good. At the same time, many challenges remain and we continue to remain very worried that there is a real risk that the country could drift towards economic and financial collapse and see a prolonged political crisis. Certainly Lebanon will continue to need the continued support of the international community, also this council, to do everything to get back to normalcy. We stand ready to continue to the extent we can.
On the security situation, the recent tensions near the Blue Line – visible in the number of violations of the provisions of resolution 1701– are worrying. Incidents like breaches to the security fence on the Lebanese side or continuous, even daily use of the Lebanese airspace by the IDF are not acceptable and contribute to an already volatile situation.
While we assume that neither Lebanon nor Israel want to risk further escalation, we are concerned that the situation at the Blue Line could spiral out of control, due to miscalculation or misunderstanding. We call on both sides, Lebanon and Israel, to show utmost restraint and to refrain from any action that could provoke further tensions.
In situations of heightened tensions, UNIFILs role in preserving the fragile stability at the Blue Line becomes even more indispensable. We commend the mission and its Force Commander for engaging directly and actively in de-escalating activities. The swift invitation of the LAF and the IDF to another tripartite meeting has been the right step. We hope that it can convene soon, since the tripartite mechanism remains the most valuable platform in order to reduce tensions and find common understanding.
We commend UNIFILs professional reaction and adaptation to the challenges posed by the COVID-pandemic. We also appreciate the support that UNIFIL has provided to local communities in the South with regards to the fight against COVID-19.
Bearing in mind the crucial role of UNIFIL for the stability in the South it is of paramount importance that the mission can fulfill its mandate without restrictions and with the full cooperation of the Lebanese authorities and in particular the Lebanese Armed Forces. This is of particular importance in the current context where the mission also faces constraints due to the impact of the pandemic.
Incidents like on 10 February in Brashit where a UNIFIL team was blocked and attacked by a group of civilians are worrying and not acceptable. It is the responsibility of the LAF to ensure that UNIFIL does get full support, access and the necessary protection in order to fulfill its mandate. Any kind of restriction of movement of the mission must be thoroughly investigated and avoided in the future. We welcome continued and detailed reporting by the UN on all incidents where UNIFIL was prevented from freely moving in its area of operations or was denied access to suspicious sites.
We condemn any action that threatens the security of Israel. The arms in the hands of Hisbollah are a substantial threat that the Lebanese government must take very seriously. We expect PM Diab’s government to take measures that address this longstanding issue.