United Nations Emergency Force

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Peacekeeping operation established during the Suez crisis.

The Suez crisis, during which Israel, France, and Britain invaded Egypt and occupied sizable portions of its territory, was brought before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly in early November 1956. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld submitted a plan for setting up an emergency UN force to supervise the cessation of hostilities on 5 November. The General Assembly then authorized the establishment of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF), the first UN peacekeeping force.

UNEF was composed of contingents provided by member states. Troops from the five permanent members of the Security Council and any countries that might have a special interest in the conflict were excluded. UNEF's establishment in the conflict area required the consent of all parties concerned. Its soldiers had light defensive weapons but were not authorized to use force except in self-defense.

UNEF, operational by mid-November 1956, initially had about 6,000 troops from Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, Finland, India, Indonesia, Norway, Sweden, and Yugoslavia. Its first commander was Major General E. L. M. Burns of Canada. As the troops were deployed to supervise the cease-fire, negotiations were being carried out for the withdrawal of the occupation forces. A phased withdrawal began under the supervision and with the assistance of UNEF. The withdrawal of Britain's and France's forces was completed by 22 December 1956, and that of Israel's forces in March 1957.

After the withdrawal, UNEF was deployed along the EgyptIsrael border and maintained a post at Sharm al-Shaykh, which controlled access to the Gulf of Aqaba. By 1967 UNEF had been reduced to about 3,400 troops.

In May 1967, as tension arose again to a critical level in the Middle East and, despite Secretary General U Thant's appeal, President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt requested the withdrawal of UNEF. UNEF therefore discontinued its operations on 18 May 1967. Three weeks later there was a new war in the Middle East.

see also arabisrael war (1956); hammarskjöld, dag; nasser, gamal abdel;suez crisis (19561957); united nations and the middle east.


Burns, E. L. M. Between Arab and Israeli. Toronto: Clarke, Irwin, 1962.

Thant, U. A View from the UN. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978.

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United Nations Emergency Force