Jonathan Steele

It is always the same when you have to fight against guerillas

Naqoura (Lebanon): Any attempt to deploy international troops to disarm Hizbollah by force would turn Lebanon into another Iraq, according to the head of UNIFIL, the U.N.'s monitoring mission in Lebanon.

``It is always the same when you have to fight against guerillas. You will have a kind of Iraq situation,'' Major General Alain Pellegrini said at the weekend.

The French General, who has commanded the contingent of 2,000 armed monitors from eight countries for two years, said Israel's air campaign had failed to destroy all of Hizbollah's installations. ``On the ground the Israelis are pushing slowly towards the Litani river. They're clearing the area between the Blue Line [the de-facto border] and the river to destroy all known Hizbollah positions and stockpiles, but not to occupy it,'' he said.

Israel had not expected the amount of resistance Hizbollah has put up, he said. He was sceptical of the optimism coming from the U.N. that Israel would accept a ceasefire soon. ``It is not yet evident that they will accept a cessation of hostilities rapidly,'' he said. ``They want to reach their goals and this is not yet done.''

UNIFIL was set up in 1978 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli troops who had invaded Lebanon to try to destroy Palestinian guerillas. Hizbollah did not yet exist. The Bush administration and Israel claim UNIFIL has failed because it has done nothing to prevent Hizbollah from building a network of tunnels and caves in the Lebanese hills and inserting huge caches of rockets, mines and other weapons.

Accusation

Gen. Pellegrini vigorously rejected the accusation. ``UNIFIL is a peace-keeping force. It was set up to monitor respect for an agreement between two parties. As long as the parties respect it, it works. When you are in a state of armed confrontation, UNIFIL cannot work,'' he said.

UNIFIL occupies dozens of posts on hilltops around south Lebanon. They are helped by 50 military observers from the U.N. truce supervision organisation, UNTSO. A memorial plaque in Tyre records the names of 244 U.N. peacekeepers who have died over the last 28 years, one of the highest tolls of any U.N. mission. Since the end of its last invasion in May 2000, Israel has violated the agreement more often than Hizbollah.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006