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Lebanon: new commander of UN peacekeepers takes over

2 February 2007 Italian Major General Claudio Graziano today took over command of the enhanced 12,000-member-strong United Nations peacekeeping mission in Lebanon overseeing the cessation of hostilities agreement that ended last summer’s 34-day war between Israel and Hizbollah.

“We have come through some difficult days together. I leave with the conviction that we have together laid new foundations for a solid and, I hope, lasting stability,” outgoing UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Commander Major General Alain Pellegrini of France said at the ceremony in front of a cenotaph dedicated to fallen UNIFIL peacekeepers in the mission’s headquarters in the Lebanese coastal town of Naqoura.

Maj. Gen. Graziano expressed his appreciation to his predecessor, underscoring his own determination to ensure that UNIFIL accomplishes its job. “I am taking command of a well-established and strong mission that is in good shape,” he said. “UNIFIL has in recent months successfully transformed itself to meet new challenges and is ready to face them.”

Dignitaries attending included Lebanese officials, Lebanese Army officers, Ambassadors of troop contributing countries, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Personal Representative for Lebanon Geir Pedersen, senior officials of the UN Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO) and UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Syrian Golan Heights.

UNIFIL, first created by the Security Council in 1978 to confirm an Israeli withdrawal after an earlier incursion, was greatly enhanced last August to monitor the cessation of hostilities in the latest conflict, support the Lebanese armed forces as they deployed throughout south Lebanon, and extend assistance to help ensure humanitarian access to civilian populations and the voluntary and safe return of displaced persons.

Its new strength was set at a maximum of 15,000 troops under Council resolution 1701, which mandated a complete Israeli withdrawal, together with Lebanese army deployment in southern Lebanon.

The peacekeepers have provided medical, dental and veterinarian aid to the local communities, and UNIFIL de-miners have destroyed many thousands of explosive devices, including rockets, grenades and cluster bombs, left over from the conflict.



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