LEBANESE PM: NO NEED FOR AN ESCALATION
London, Berlin condemn Hezbollah tunnels, back Israeli border operation
Diplomats for European nations say Lebanese terror group showing ‘blatant disregard’ for UN resolutions in its ‘aggressive behavior’ along Israel’s northern frontier
British and German diplomats on Wednesday backed Israel’s right to combat Hezbollah tunnels dug beneath its northern border and strongly condemned the Lebanese terror group for its actions.
Alistair Burt, British Minister of State for the Middle East, said Hezbollah actions were “a blatant disregard of UN resolutions, threatening Israel and Lebanon’s stability.”
The statements joined those of US National Security Adviser John Bolton who on Tuesday expressed “strong support” for Israel’s “efforts to defend its sovereignty.”
The Israeli army on Tuesday launched Operation Northern Shield to find and destroy what Israel says are cross-border tunnels planned for use by Hezbollah to attack the country and perhaps launch a full-scale war.
At a regularly scheduled meeting with peacekeepers and representatives from the Lebanese Armed Forces, Israeli officers “presented the uncovered Hezbollah attack tunnel that had been dug from Lebanon to Israel,” a statement from the Israeli military said, without providing details.
“The IDF expressed its protest to the serious violation of Israeli territory and UN Resolution 1701,” the statement said referring to the 2006 UN Security Council resolution calling for Hezbollah to withdraw from southern Lebanon following the Second Lebanon War, the last major conflict between the IDF and the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.
The statement came after Lebanese parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, said earlier that the Israeli army offered no “coordinates or information” about the tunnels during the talks, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
Berri and others in Lebanon have questioned the authenticity of the IDF’s claims about attack tunnels leading into Israeli territory, while Hezbollah has remained silent.
However, Lebanese Prime Minister Said Hariri said that his country was not seeking an escalation.
Lebanon does not want an escalation and is seeking to maintain calm with “all international and friendly parties concerned,” Hariri said in a statement from his office, without directly referring to the tunnels .
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said Wednesday it will send a team to Israel to “ascertain facts” and called for full access to all locations along the border. According to Israel’s Hadashot news, some UNIFIL personnel were shown the Israeli side of the tunnel.
Speaking to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres by phone, Netanyahu Wednesday urged international condemnation of Hezbollah and more sanctions against the Iran-backed terror group, calling it a “flagrant violation of Israeli sovereignty” and “an additional part of Iran’s aggression in the region.”
Netanyahu “said that he expects the UN to strongly condemn the violation of Israel’s sovereignty,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office read. “The prime minister also told the UN secretary-general that the international community must join in the demand to impose increased sanctions on Hezbollah in the wake of the events.”
There was no comment from Guterres’s office.
Israel has long been critical of what it describes as UNIFIL’s failure to rein in the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorist group, which the IDF says maintains a large arsenal in the area despite Resolution 1701.
The US has already imposed some sanctions on Hezbollah and its affiliates. Other Western nations have made moves to impose sanctions and restrictions against the organization, which is part of the Lebanese government, though most measures differentiate between the group’s political and armed wings.
According to the IDF, the tunnel found Tuesday originated in the Lebanese village of Kafr Kila, near the Israeli border, and was approximately 200 meters (650 feet) long. It was dug some 25 meters (80 feet) below ground and was approximately two meters (six feet) tall by two meters (six feet) wide, which would easily make it large enough for heavily armed infantry to pass through it.
The IDF said the tunnel, which extended some 40 meters into Israel, was the “first of what are sure to be many” attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah across the border discovered as part of the newly launched operation.
In addition to images from inside the tunnel the IDF also provided footage, taken by an army robot which surprised two Hezbollah operatives who were inside the passage at the time.
Lebanese TV Wednesday aired footage of a chicken coop that it said was the building where the tunnel allegedly originated.
IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkott said Tuesday that the army “is in possession of” Hezbollah’s tunnel plan.
Hadashot TV said Wednesday that the IDF tackled the tunnel heading to Metulla first, because it was being dug toward a residential area, while other tunnels are heading to army positions.
The military operation is expected to last several weeks and is being led by the head of the IDF Northern Command Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, army officials have said. The army said the Hezbollah tunnels are not yet operational and do not present an immediate threat to Israelis.
Source: The Times of Israel