Is­rael says op­er­a­tion on bor­der com­plete

U.S. en­voy meets Le­banese of­fi­cials re­gard­ing Hezbol­lah’s ‘desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties’

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

BEIRUT: Is­rael an­nounced Sun­day that it com­pleted Op­er­a­tion North­ern Shield after un­cov­er­ing all al­leged Hezbol­lah tun­nels, as a top U.S. en­voy ar­rived in Beirut to dis­cuss Hezbol­lah’s ac­tiv­i­ties with Le­banese of­fi­cials.

The Is­raeli an­nounce­ment came as United States Un­der Sec­re­tary of State for Po­lit­i­cal Af­fairs, David Hale – the No. 3 at the U.S. State Depart­ment – held meet­ings with top Le­banese se­cu­rity and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials Sun­day, where the sit­u­a­tion along the bor­der with Is­rael was among the top­ics dis­cussed.

The Is­raeli army’s Ara­bic spokesper­son Avichay Adraee tweeted that Is­rael had dis­cov­ered the last tun­nel, which Is­rael claims were dug by Hezbol­lah from Le­banon into Is­rael. The tun­nel, dis­cov­ered Satur­day night, was said to start in the Le­banese town of Ra­maya in Bint Jbeil.

“With the dis­cov­ery of the ter­ror­ist tun­nel, all tun­nels dug by Hezbol­lah into Is­rael were un­cov­ered. The tun­nel will be de­stroyed in the next few days,” Adraee said.

Is­raeli mil­i­tary spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Con­ri­cus de­clined to say how many tun­nels had been dis­cov­ered in to­tal, but the Is­raeli army has an­nounced six since Op­er­a­tion North­ern Shield was launched in early De­cem­ber.

The United Na­tion’s peace­keep­ing force in south­ern Le­banon has con­firmed the ex­is­tence of at least four tun­nels so far but has not com­mented on who built them.

Con­ri­cus said UNIFIL has been no­ti­fied of the sixth al­leged tun­nel, adding that it reached a few dozen me­ters into Is­rael and that at 55 me­ters un­der­ground, it was the deep­est, “long­est and most de­tailed” of all the tun­nels the army had ex­posed.

It in­cluded stairs, a rail sys­tem and a wide pas­sage­way that al­lowed for the move­ment of equip­ment and a large num­ber of forces.

Con­ri­cus said there were no more tun­nels reach­ing Is­rael from Le­banon but the army was still mon­i­tor­ing “fa­cil­i­ties” sup­pos­edly be­ing dug by Hezbol­lah in­side Le­banese ter­ri­tory.

“We are … ap­proach­ing the com­ple­tion of the goal we set at the out­set of Op­er­a­tion North­ern Shield: the erad­i­ca­tion of Hezbol­lah’s tun­nels weapon,” Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Sun­day at the start of a Cab­i­net meet­ing.

Hezbol­lah has not made any com­ment on the tun­nels.

Mean­while, Hale met with Gen­eral Se­cu­rity chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and Le­banese Army Com­man­der Gen. Joseph Aoun, after he sat down with Pro­gres­sive So­cial­ist Party leader Walid Joum­blatt shortly after his ar­rival Satur­day.

A Gen­eral Se­cu­rity state­ment said that Ibrahim and Hale spoke about “the ten­sion re­sult­ing from the Is­raeli en­emy’s … build­ing of a wall in a dis­puted bor­der area with Le­banon.”

Is­raeli forces Thurs­day had placed 25 ce­ment blocks near the set­tle­ment of Miskaf Aam, op­po­site the Le­banese town of Adais­seh. Six of the blocks were placed on dis­puted points. Is­raeli forces con­tin­ued work on a ce­ment wall in a dis­puted bor­der area near the Le­banese town of Adais­seh, lo­cal sources told The Daily Star Sun­day.

The two of­fi­cials also dis­cussed the mar­itime bor­der dis­pute be­tween Le­banon and Is­rael.

Last year, Le­banon’s first off­shore li­cens­ing round saw parts of two mar­itime en­ergy blocks awarded to a con­sor­tium of three in­ter­na­tional oil com­pa­nies.

Part of one of the blocks, which con­tains po­ten­tial off­shore oil and gas re­serves, has been claimed by Is­rael. The broader dis­pute con­cerns a tri­an­gu­lar area of sea mea­sur­ing around 860 square kilo­me­ters.

Dur­ing his meet­ing ear­lier in the day with Aoun, Hale dis­cussed Amer­i­can aid to the Le­banese Army and other forms of mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to an Army state­ment.

Shortly after ar­riv­ing in Beirut, Hale and Joum­blatt met at the lat­ter’s Cle­menceau res­i­dence, ac­com­pa­nied by U.S. Am­bas­sador to Le­banon El­iz­abeth Richard and an Amer­i­can del­e­ga­tion. Joum­blatt’s son and leader of the PSP’s par­lia­men­tary block MP Tey­mour Joum­blatt also at­tended the meet­ing, along with care­taker Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mar­wan Ha­madeh and MPs Akram Che­hayeb and Wael Abu Faour.

Hale will meet with Pres­i­dent Michel Aoun Mon­day morn­ing, a source at Baabda Palace said.

Sheikh Na­bil Qaouk, a mem­ber of Hezbol­lah’s cen­tral coun­cil, said Sun­day that “the U.S. visit to Le­banon and the re­gion will not change any­thing.”

“Amer­ica will not have any po­lit­i­cal gain in Le­banon at the ex­pense of the re­sis­tance,” he added.

A state­ment re­leased by the U.S. Em­bassy in Le­banon Satur­day said Hale’s visit would fo­cus on un­der­scor­ing his coun­try’s con­cerns re­gard­ing Hezbol­lah’s “desta­bi­liz­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in Le­banon and the re­gion, in­clud­ing the re­cent dis­cov­ery of Hezbol­lah’s cross-bor­der tun­nels.”

The state­ment added that Hale hopes to reaf­firm his coun­try’s strong sup­port for Le­banon, “in­clud­ing its le­git­i­mate se­cu­rity in­sti­tu­tions as it con­tin­ues to cope with sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenges.” – The Daily Star, agen­cies

UNIFIL peace­keep­ers pa­trol the bor­der with Is­rael in the Le­banese south­ern vil­lage of Adais­seh.

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