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S 2 United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO)

The first peacekeeping operation in the Middle East was the United Nations Truce Supervision Organisation (UNTSO) which continues to operate to this day. It was created during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 to supervise the truce called for in Palestine by the United Nations. In 1949 its military observers remained to supervise the Armistice Agreements between Israel and its Arab neighbours which formed the basis of an uneasy truce in the area for many years. The activities of UNTSO from its beginning have been spread over the territory of five countries; Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. The functions of the military observers have altered to meet the changed conditions caused by wars in 1956, 1967 and 1973 but observers have stayed in the area to act as go-between for the hostile parties and so prevent isolated incidents from escalating into major conflicts.

In early 1972, tension heightened on the Israel-Lebanon border as a result of Palestinian attacks across the border into Israel and reprisals by Israel in Southern Lebanon. At the request of the Lebanese Government, UNTSO observers were stationed on the Lebanese side from April 1972. Five posts were established with a strength of 34 observers and, since UN observers are never armed, the Lebanese army established a check-post next to each UN post.

In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and the Lebanese army disintegrated, leaving the observers manning the posts on their own in an increasingly dangerous situation. The UN secretary-general asked the observers to continue to operate as before in spite of the changed conditions. On a number of occasions, observers' vehicles were hijacked and their observation posts were forced into one faction or another but, on the whole, the fighting factions respected the status of the observers. Reports by the observers made no mention of the Lebanese civil war since they were only concerned with the cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon. The UNTSO observers remained at the border until March 1978 when they were withdrawn after Israel invaded Lebanon.

The UNTSO headquarters is in Jerusalem with UNTSO military observers attached to the Peacekeeping Forces in the area. Observers are attached to the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force on the Golan Heights and, in Southern Lebanon, to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. When United Nations Emergency Force II was withdrawn in July 1979, five observation posts were established in the Sinai and manned by UNTSO observers and a liaison office opened in Cairo in an arrangement that continues to the present. In 1982, the Observation Group Beirut was formed with 50 observers. This was reduced to 18 observers in 1985. In addition to helping Peacekeeping Forces in the Arab-Israeli area, UNTSO helped organise the United Nations forces in the Congo in 1960 and in Yemen in 1963.

Seventeen countries presently provide military observers to UNTSO which has an authorised strength of 298. Australian Army officers have served with UNTSO since 1956 and today thirteen are serving. UNTSO is listed in Schedule 3 VEA, with 1 June 1956 as the date Australians commenced with that Peacekeeping Force.