Is­rael could cross into Le­banon: minister

Ac­tion against al­leged tun­nels may ex­pand, Katz says, as dig­gers cross Blue Line

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON -

BEIRUT/OC­CU­PIED JERUSALEM: Is­rael is pre­pared to take ac­tion in Le­banon against al­leged cross-border tun­nels if nec­es­sary, an Is­raeli Cab­i­net minister said Fri­day, as a re­port emerged that two Is­raeli ex­ca­va­tors crossed the tech­ni­cal fence sep­a­rat­ing the two coun­tries and be­gan dig­ging.

Is­rael’s mil­i­tary said ear­lier this week it had found a num­ber of pas­sages across the Is­rael-Le­banon border, which it al­leged Hezbol­lah dug to carry out at­tacks in­side Is­rael.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary sent me­chan­i­cal dig­gers, troops and anti-tun­nel­ing equip­ment to the border to shut them down.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary, which launched the op­er­a­tion Tues­day, has said its ac­tiv­ity would, for now, stop on the Is­raeli side of the border.

How­ever, the Le­banese state-run Na­tional News Agency re­ported that two Is­raeli me­chan­i­cal ex­ca­va­tors, ac­com­pa­nied by mil­i­tary per­son­nel and two mil­i­tary Humvees, crossed the tech­ni­cal fence, which runs along­side the Blue Line, be­fore begin­ning to dig near the town of Mais al-Ja­bal in Mar­jay­oun.

One of the ve­hi­cles re­port­edly went 100 me­ters past the Blue Line.

When asked about the re­port, a UNIFIL spokesper­son told The Daily Star that they did not have any ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion.

While a num­ber of Is­raeli soldiers stopped at the “blue bar­rels” that mark the border in some ar­eas, an­other 30 were de­ployed on the mil­i­tary road, along­side six ve­hi­cles.

At 5 p.m., all the ve­hi­cles that had crossed the tech­ni­cal fence with­drew to Is­raeli ter­ri­tory, the NNA said.

Fri­day’s dig­ging op­er­a­tions came af­ter Is­raeli news me­dia Thurs­day quoted an uniden­ti­fied se­nior of­fi­cial say­ing that Is­rael could ex­tend its ac­tiv­ity into Le­banon.

Is­raeli In­tel­li­gence Minister Yis­rael Katz Fri­day re­it­er­ated that mes­sage. “If we think that in or­der to thwart the tun­nels that one needs to op­er­ate on the other side, then we will op­er­ate on the other side of the border,” Katz told Ra­dio Tel Aviv 102 FM.

Over the past year, at least 15 tun­nels from the Gaza Strip into Is­rael were found and de­stroyed, the Is­raeli mil­i­tary said.

UNIFIL Thurs­day con­firmed the ex­is­tence of a tun­nel near the Blue Line, de­scrib­ing it as a “se­ri­ous oc­cur­rence” and adding it was “en­gaged with the par­ties to pur­sue ur­gent fol­low-up ac­tion.”

In the af­ter­math of the Is­raeli al­le­ga­tions around the tun­nels, the sit­u­a­tion has re­mained calm on both sides of the border.

But the Is­raeli op­er­a­tion has brought re­newed at­ten­tion to a fron­tier across which Is­rael and Hezbol­lah fought a war in 2006.

The Is­raeli mil­i­tary said in a state­ment Thurs­day that it “holds the Le­banese gov­ern­ment, the Le­banese Armed Forces and United Nations In­terim Force in Le­banon re­spon­si­ble for all events tran­spir­ing in and em­a­nat­ing from Le­banon.”

It added that an Is­raeli mil­i­tary com­man­der had shown one of the al­leged tun­nels to UNIFIL head Maj. Gen. Ste­fano Del Col, and it urged UNIFIL and the Le­banese Army to clear the area of any pas­sages.

Del Col met sep­a­rately with Le­banese Army Com­man­der Gen. Joseph Aoun and Gen­eral Se­cu­rity head Maj. Gen. Ab­bas Ibrahim Fri­day to dis­cuss the sit­u­a­tion in the coun­try’s south.

The Na­tional News Agency re­ported that Del Col met with Ibrahim to ad­dress the de­vel­op­ments on Le­banon’s south­ern border af­ter Is­rael’s al­le­ga­tions.

Ear­lier Fri­day, Del Col met with Aoun to dis­cuss the “emerg­ing sit­u­a­tion” on the Blue Line, ac­cord­ing to an Army state­ment.

Del Col Wed­nes­day headed a tri­par­tite meet­ing be­tween the Le­banese Army, UNIFIL and the Is­raeli army.

Care­taker For­eign Minister Ge­bran Bas­sil has in­structed the Le­banon’s en­voy to the United Nations to com­plain that Is­rael is wag­ing “a diplo­matic and po­lit­i­cal cam­paign against Le­banon in prepa­ra­tion for at­tacks against it,” Hezbol­lah’s Al-Ma­nar TV said.

Since the 2006 War, Is­rael has largely re­frained from strik­ing at Hezbol­lah on Le­banese soil.

How­ever, it has car­ried out dozens of at­tacks in Syria against what it said were ship­ments of ad­vanced weapons to Hezbol­lah. –

UNIFIL peace­keep­ers patrol the border at Kfar Kila.

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