UN force says Israel-Lebanon border tunnels violate truce
BEIRUT (AP) — U.N. peacekeepers in Lebanon said Monday that two of the four tunnels discovered by Israel and allegedly dug by the Hezbollah militant group cross the border in violation of the cease-fire agreement that ended the 2006 war.
UNIFIL said it has been investigating the tunnels uncovered in an Israeli operation launched earlier this month. Israel says the militant group dug the tunnels in order to infiltrate the country and carry out attacks. Hezbollah has not commented on the operation.
“This is a matter of serious concern and UNIFIL technical investigations continue,” the peacekeeping force said in a statement.
UNIFIL said two tunnels cross the so-called Blue Line that demarcates the border between Israel and Lebanon. It called on Lebanese authorities to take “urgent follow-up” actions.
Israel and Lebanon are technically at war, and Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war that ended in stalemate in 2006. The cease-fire called on Israel to withdraw from the south and Hezbollah to keep away from the border. It also stipulated that only UNIFIL and the Lebanese armed forces would be deployed south of the Litani River.
Israel has called on the international community to impose new sanctions on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a heavily-armed mini-army with an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets that can reach nearly every part of Israel.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said earlier this month his government was ready to take necessary action following a full report from the peacekeeping force on the tunnels, without offering specifics.
In Beirut, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Lebanon is committed to the full implementation of the cease-fire agreement and respect of the Blue Line. During a meeting with Gen. Stefano Del Col, the head of UNIFIL, Hariri said the Lebanese army will conduct patrols to deal “with any flaw in the implementation” of the cease-fire.
Earlier Monday, Lebanese soldiers went on alert after Israeli troops rolled out barbed wire along the border.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said the incident occurred on the edge of the southern village of Mays al-Jabal when Israeli troops installed 200 meters (yards) of wire. Lebanese troops protested that the wire was placed on their side of the border.
The Israeli military said its troops were placing concertina wire “adjacent to the Blue Line” when the standoff occurred. It said the wire was installed entirely in Israeli territory, in coordination with the peacekeepers. “No violent incidents were reported,” it said.
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said that after reports of a “standoff” between Lebanese and Israeli troops along the Blue Line, “UNIFIL troops were deployed in the area to defuse the situation, prevent misunderstandings and maintain stability.”
“The situation in the area is now calm and our troops are on the ground,” Tenenti said.