Turkey to pull out of U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon

[26-07-2013 10:59 PM]

Ammon News - SIDON, Lebanon: Turkey will withdraw its troops from the U.N. Interim Forces in Lebanon in less than two months, security sources told The Daily Star Friday, a sudden move that would surely affect the peacekeeping mission.

The sources said Turkish peacekeepers will abandon their headquarters in the southern village of Shaatieh in a month and a half.

UNIFIL, however, denied the claims.

Spokesperson Antoinette Midday said the peacekeeping force was not notified of any decision by the Turkish contingent of its intention to depart south Lebanon.

Speaking to The Daily Star, Midday said there were routine adjustments to the makeup of UNIFIL as troop-contributing countries lessen or increase the number of their corresponding peacekeeping force.

Such changes are decided between the UNIFIL’s leadership and contributing states and were a regular process in all U.N. peacekeeping forces, Midday added.

The important aspect, Midday noted, was to maintain a sufficient number of troops that would be capable of carrying out tasks efficiently.

The pull-out would serve a heavy blow to several educational institutions equipped and renovated by the Turkish contingent.

The Turkish peacekeepers have recently rebuilt the Lebanese University building in the southern town of Tyre. They have also provided many southerners with electricity generators and computers as well as medical and logistical assistance.

The 348-strong contingent, which joined the peacekeeping force in early 2007, also reopened a school in Srifa which was destroyed during the 2006 July war.

As of 19 June, UNIFIL consisted of 10,819 peacekeepers from 37 countries, including Turkey.

The sources declined to identify reasons behind Turkey’s sudden decision to pull out or whether such a move was linked to the case of nine Lebanese hostages held by Syrian rebels in the Aleppo district of Azaz.

The Turkish force’s activities decreased and its security was upgraded in recent months after the families of nine Lebanese pilgrims held hostage by rebels in Syria threatened to attack Turkish interests in the country if their relatives were not released.

Families of the hostages, who held several protests outside Turkish institutions including the peacekeepers’ base in south Lebanon, claim that Turkey should have some leverage over the rebels in order to secure the release of the Shiite men who were kidnapped in May of last year.

Reasons behind Turkey's decision to withdraw its troops could also be linked to tensions in the region and Lebanon, and possible threats made to the contingent itself.

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