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Minister ignoring threat posed to Irish troops by Israeli forces

11 October, 2006

Sinn Féin's International Affairs spokesperson Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD has accused the Minister for Defence of failing to recognise the serious threat posed to Irish troops by Israeli forces. Pointing to examples of deliberate attacks by Israel Occupying Forces on the UN in the past Deputy Ó Snodaigh regretted that Sinn Féin's hope that the UN mandate would extend to the Israeli side of the border had not been borne out. He also called on the Minister to clarify whether the role of UNIFIL, which has been described as 'considerably more robust' means that the mandate for UNIFIL now includes enforcement by military means under Chapter VII of the UN Charter.

The Dublin South Central TD said: "I'd like to begin by welcoming the fact that the Government agreed to debate this motion in the House today. However, given that the time allocated for debate is just 65 minutes I believe this important motion, which affects the lives of 150 Irish men and women and their families, should also be afforded a Committee debate before it is passed. A Committee debate involving a more detailed and flexible discussion of the issues involved would add to the debate here today and should take place.

"According to the Irish United Nations Veterans Association, since 1958 the Irish Defence Forces have provided 70,000 soldiers for tours of duty overseas in 40 countries. 85 members of the Defence Forces have died overseas and many more have been injured. So it is always important that overseas missions are fully scrutinised prior to the deployment of Irish soldiers on them. And it is particularly important in the case of UNIFIL given the threat posed to these personnel by Israel which last summer demonstrated yet again its willingness to kill UN personnel with impunity.

"Last July Israeli shelling killed four UN Observers despite UN peacekeepers having warned Israeli soldiers on ten separate occasions to stop shelling. This is not the first time Israel has showed absolute disregard for the lives of UN staff. In 2002 Israeli Occupying Forces in the West Bank murdered UN Relief and Works Agency project manager Ian Hook. The direct threat posed by Israel to members serving with UNIFIL must be recognised. The Minister has not recognised this.

"With regard to the resolution extending the UNIFIL mission. Sinn Fein had hoped that the resolution would provide for deployment on both sides of the border and that it would give UNIFIL a mandate to monitor the activities of the Israelis also. Unfortunately the mandate does not extend to this. However, given that the Lebanese are supportive of the force Sinn Fein supports it also. But we are concerned by some aspects of the expanded mandate.

"The Department of Defence briefing notes that the role of UNIFIL II is to be "considerably more robust" but claims that it will still operate under Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Chapter VI covers traditional peacekeeping tasks such as monitoring, patrolling and observing. However, according to a senior US State Department official the resolution expanding UNIFIL's role has "all the characteristics of a Chapter VII resolution. It walks like, talks like and acts like a Chapter VII resolution". Chapter VII of the charter allows for enforcement by military means. The Minister must clarify whether the "more robust" role of UNIFIL II actually strays into the arena of Chapter VII or not.

"While Ireland has a very proud record in terms of its involvement in peacekeeping overseas including in Lebanon where Irish members have been stationed since 1978, it is important that we recognise the mistakes of the past in order that we do not repeat them. There have been reports of discrimination and differential treatment by UNIFIL of Muslims versus Christians over the years. And claims that at times Israeli-backed Christian militias were given a free run in UNIFIL patrolled areas while some of the Muslim population were treated poorly. The relevant Ministers for Defence must monitor the operations of the UNIFIL force to ensure that it operates at all times in a manner that is above reproach. This is particularly important in light of the new more robust UNIFIL mandate.

"We must be vigilant against any attempts to co-opt the UNIFIL Force into serving the ends and foreign policies of interested countries and must ensure that such corruption of the mission isn't allowed to happen."

"Finally, given the more robust nature of the mandate I would also like to ask the Minister to make a commitment in his closing remarks that this House will return to this issue in 6 months to discuss how UNIFIL II is getting on."


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