The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) that Turkey notified the UNIFIL this week that it has decided to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
“The withdrawal will be completed by the first week of September while Turkish troops will continue to serve in the UNIFIL Maritime Task Force,” Tenenti told NNA, AFP reported.
The report of Turkish withdrawal came on the day when two Turkish pilots were kidnapped by Shiite Lebanese gunmen, demanding the release of nine kidnapped Lebanese Shiite pilgrims abducted by Syrian rebels in Azaz last May. It was not immediately clear if the decision to withdraw troops was related to the kidnapping that has become frequent in Lebanon. Tenenti said Ankara notified about its decision on Aug. 6, three days before the pilots were kidnapped.
He added that Turkey will withdraw its engineering and construction experts unit, but will maintain its presence within UNIFIL’s naval forces with 58 troops and a frigate.
“The Turkish Engineering Construction Unit started serving with the UNIFIL in 2006 and has since provided great support to the troops for its experience and expertise,” Tenenti stated.
“What is important is that the UNIFIL preserves through such measures its on-ground operational capabilities, for the sake of actively executing its duties and mission,” he underlined.
Turkish Parliament extended the mandate, for the seventh time, of 265 Turkish troops operating under the banner of the UNIFIL for one year in early July as of Sept. 5, 2013.
The United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 on Aug. 11, 2006, after a conflict broke out between Lebanon and Israel on July 12, 2006 and put it into action following a cease-fire between the parties signed on Aug. 14, 2006.
The Turkish Parliament first agreed to send troops to the war-torn country in 2006, despite widespread opposition and protests, to help monitor a shaky cease-fire between Israel and Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon and has extended its mandate for a year every summer since then.
Parliament previously authorized the government on May 29, 2007, July 8, 2008, June 23, 2009, June 24, 2010, July 5, 2011 and July 1, 2012, to extend the mandate of Turkish troops operating under UNIFIL.
Turkey has dispatched forces, mainly comprising naval force units, to patrol the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey also helps train the Lebanese army and supports its ally in naval and air transportation.