Le­banon to com­plain at U.N. over Is­rael ac­tion, fears at­tack

Is­raeli forces ex­pand search as UNIFIL con­firms tun­nel dis­cov­ery

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE - By Mo­hammed Zaatari, Ti­mour Azhari and Ghinwa Obeid

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.

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