Lebanon to complain at U.N. over Israel action, fears attack
Israeli forces expand search as UNIFIL confirms tunnel discovery
BEIRUT/KFAR KILA: Lebanon will file a complaint against Israel at the United Nations Security Council, saying its actions on their shared border were a prelude to an Israeli attack, a statement from the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said Thursday.
Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Israel’s excavations of what it says are tunnels dug by Hezbollah to infiltrate Israel were a “diplomatic and political campaign against Lebanon in preparation for attacks against it.”
He asked Lebanese Ambassador Amal Mudallali to file a complaint to the U.N. in New York.
The Israeli army announced Thursday that it had expanded its operations to three areas along its border with Lebanon where it says it discovered Hezbollah “attack tunnels,” and that it was aware of even more.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, later confirmed the presence of a tunnel near the Blue Line following its own investigation.
Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus made the announcement after UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col visited the site of one of the alleged Hezbollah tunnels that Israel announced it had discovered Tuesday, the day it launched “Operation Northern Shield” to block them.
Israel’s northern commander Maj. Gen. Yoav Strik presented Del Col with a map showing the location of a second tunnel and structures said to be connected to it in the Lebanese village of Ramaya in Bint Jbeil, a tweet from the Israeli army’s account said. Israel claimed in a series of tweets that an average of one in three houses in south Lebanon had “terror assets” inside.
Strik requested that UNIFIL ensures the “neutralization” of the
tunnel on Lebanon’s side. Del Col can be seen in a photo released by the Israel army peering into a hole in the ground at the alleged tunnel site, surrounded by Israeli security forces.
In light of the developments, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is asking the international community to impose additional sanctions on Hezbollah. He is also calling for Hezbollah to be condemned at a meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Israel has called for.
In a statement released after Netanyahu took diplomats on a tour of the border area, Netanyahu said, “I told the ambassadors that they should condemn this aggression by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, unequivocally, and of course also to intensify the sanctions against these elements.”
Speaker Nabih Berri and the Lebanese Army have refuted the Israeli claims, with the Army calling them “mere allegations” and Berri saying they were not based on “any true information or facts at all.”
Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, meanwhile, has said Lebanon was seeking to maintain calm, but has not directly addressed the claims.
Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc did not comment on developments at the southern border after its weekly meeting Thursday.
In a more ambivalent response, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, an archrival of Hezbollah, said earlier Thursday that the Lebanese government should wait for the result of a UNIFIL investigation into the matter before deciding what steps to take. “If the [investigation shows] that the tunnels don’t exist, the Lebanese government should carry out an international diplomatic campaign,” he said. “If the report shows that there were tunnels, the government should officially ask Hezbollah to halt any work that may constitute a danger to Lebanon and the Lebanese.”
Geagea called for an urgent Cabinet meeting to discuss the Israeli operation, saying the situation has “become delicate.”
“The resigned government should meet urgently in order to discuss what is going on in the south and to assert Lebanon’s commitment to Resolution 1701,” Geagea said in a statement, referring to the U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 Israeli War against Hezbollah and called for a cessation of all hostilities.
The state-run National News Agency reported that residents of the southern town of Kfar Kila, opposite the site where the first alleged tunnel was found, had received a voice recording on WhatsApp in Arabic originating from Israel, telling them to distance themselves from Hezbollah.
The recording said the town would be threatened with destruction if the inhabitants continued working with the group.
Israeli works on the first tunnel site continued Thursday through rainy weather. The Daily Star observed Israeli forces initiating excavation works opposite the Palestinian village of Tarbikha, with a heavy deployment of Israeli security forces.
Sources told The Daily Star that Israel would be expanding its excavations. One of the sources had monitored Israel teams who surveyed the border area with maps and sensors. The source said Israel had conducted similar surveys of some areas near the border in 2014, but did not find any tunnels.
At the time, a search was launched after residents of a number of Israeli settlements complained of hearing noises and muffled explosions from under the ground, the source said. Many in Lebanon have responded to the Israeli operation with humor. On social media, memes mocking the Israeli operation circulated, including an image of Lebanese people smoking nargileh in a “Hezbollah tunnel,” an imagined traffic dispute between Israeli settlers and Lebanese over who had right of way inside a tunnel, and a joint Hamas-Hezbollah celebration of the opening of a tunnel connecting southern Lebanon with the Gaza Strip.
The southern border has seen a period of relative calm since the 2006 July war, but both Israel and Hezbollah have said a future conflict could not be ruled out. – With AP
UNIFIL trucks on the Blue Line.