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Germany takes control of UNIFIL naval unit

BEIRUT, Lebanon, Sept. 1 (UPI) -- German naval forces assumed responsibility over a U.N. maritime task force deployed in Lebanese waters to curb weapons smuggling.

The maritime task force was deployed in Lebanese waters in 2006 in the wake of a 34-day conflict between the Israeli military and Hezbollah guerrillas.

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The task force is part of the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon and is the first naval force deployed as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission, the U.N. news agency reports.

UNIFIL is among the longest-standing U.N. peacekeeping missions, deployed in Lebanon since 1978. Its mandate was revamped in the wake of a 2006 conflict to expand operations along the southern Lebanese border with Israel.

"Through its monitoring activities, the MTF has not only been playing a critical deterrence role, warding off all attempts at illegal arms trafficking," UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Claudio Graziano said at the handover ceremony from Italy to Germany. "It has also contributed to a safe environment for commercial ships traveling to and from Lebanon."

The MTF since its inception in 2006 hailed more than 25,000 ships and referred around 400 to Lebanese authorities.

The Lebanese military reported in May that an "enemy Israeli military vessel" fired on Lebanese fishing boats in Lebanese water.

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