Lebanese wary as Israel destroys Hezbollah border tunnels

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Israeli soldiers shot yesterday at three suspected Hezbollah “activists” along the Lebanon border, the army said, days after uncovering a tunnel under the frontier. (AFP)
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The UN peacekeeping force has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation. (AFP)
Updated 14 December 2018
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Lebanese wary as Israel destroys Hezbollah border tunnels

  • Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier, calling on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah
  • In Lebanon, Israeli PM's warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card

MAYS AL-JABAL, Lebanon: As Israeli excavators dug into the rocky hills along the frontier with a Lebanese village, a crowd of young Lebanese men gathered to watch.
The mood was light as the crowd observed what Israel says is a military operation — dubbed “Northern Shield” — aimed at destroying attack tunnels built by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The young men posed for selfies, with the Israeli crew in the background, as they burned fires and brewed tea to keep warm.
But Lebanese soldiers were visibly on high alert, deploying to new camouflaged posts behind sandbags and inside abandoned homes. About two dozen UN peacekeepers stood in a long line, just ahead of the blue line demarcating the frontier between the two countries technically still at war.
The scene highlights the palpable anxiety that any misstep could lead to a conflagration between Israel and Lebanon that no one seems to want.
Underscoring such jitters, shadowy figures appearing across the misty hills of the border village of Mays Al-Jabal last weekend sparked panic, and Israeli soldiers fired in the air to warn a Lebanese military intelligence patrol, according to Lebanese reports. Israel said it fired at Hezbollah members who came to the site to dismantle sensors installed to detect tunnels.
Israel’s tunnel search comes at a time when the civil war in neighboring Syria seems to be winding down. Hezbollah had sent hundreds of troops to Syria in 2013 to fight alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. With Assad’s forces emerging victorious, attention now seems to be returning to the tense Israel-Lebanon border.
Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier — a tactic used by Hezbollah in previous wars — and called on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah.
The militant group, which fought a bruising but inconclusive war with Israel in 2006, has not commented on the Israeli operation or statements.
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Thursday that neither Israel nor Lebanon wanted to go to war, but noted that Israel violates Lebanese airspace and international waters on a regular basis.
He said the Lebanese army “will deal with this issue” after receiving a full report from the UN peacekeeping force, but did not elaborate.
The peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation in line with UN Security Council resolutions.
In southern Lebanon on Thursday, Lebanese army soldiers observed the frontier in Mays Al-Jabal, taking photos of their Israeli counterparts operating only a few meters (yards) away. At times, the Lebanese soldiers asked the young men to move back, away from the frontier.
Lebanese homes and farms are nestled at the bottom of the hill where the operations run from daybreak until sundown. No civilian Israeli homes visible from that tense border.
Ali Jaber, a 21-year-old resident of Mays Al-Jabal, said he believes that Hezbollah is more popular after the Syria war, and that this is the reason Israel is now turning to it. “But whoever puts up a shield and is hiding and making fortifications must be scared,” he said.
Hussein Melhem, a 19-year old electrician from the village, came to watch. His cheeks ruddy on a cold but clear day, he covered his head with a tight hood. He alleged that Israel is trying to change the border.
“If they could occupy all of this, they would,” he said, in an apparent reference to Israel’s 18-year military occupation of southern Lebanon which ended in 2000. “But the resistance will prevent them.”
As a seven-year-old in 2006, Melhem and his family left Mays Al-Jabal when Israel invaded. His village was badly damaged but has since largely recovered and he said he found their home intact.
It is hard to forget about war in the villages and towns along the frontier. Pictures of Hezbollah fighters who died in the 2006 war, as well as the one raging in neighboring Syria, known locally as the “Sacred Defense,” are everywhere. Posts on town squares boast of defeating Israel or urge the locals to “know their enemy.”
During the Syrian civil war, Israel has frequently carried out airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-allied forces, particularly Hezbollah. Israel says it aims to prevent sophisticated weaponry from reaching Hezbollah, which it considers its most pressing security concern.
In Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card.
Netanyahu has called for more sanctions against Hezbollah. In a visit to the frontier earlier this week, he warned that if Hezbollah tries to disrupt the search for tunnels, “it will be hit in a way it cannot even imagine.”
In Israel, some newspaper commentators have been critical of the UN peacekeeping force, whose mandate Israel and the United States have unsuccessfully attempted to expand to include “intervention and deterrence.”
About 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the north from Mays Al-Jabal, Israeli soldiers are also operating along another frontier to uncover what they suspect is a tunnel location.
There, a high concrete wall separates them from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kela. Red-roofed Israeli homes on a hill overlook the diggers, who had cleared peach trees to make room for their work. Lebanese residences, some of them luxury summer homes, sat atop hills hundreds of meters from the wall.
UN peacekeepers and Lebanese army separately patrol the area. Israel began building the wall in 2012, and this section was completed weeks ago. While graffiti covers the older slabs of concrete, water has collected under the newer segment of the wall.
A UN peacekeeping force was working to clear the water after Lebanese residents complained it comes from irrigation drainage from the other side.


Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

Updated 26 June 2019
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Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

  • A number of Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative

AMMAN: Palestinian officials, activists and the public at large stood unusually united on Tuesday in their opposition to the US-led, economic-based Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. They launched a wide-ranging public and media blitz in protest against the start of the two-day Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain.

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem told Arab News that watching Jared Kushner make his opening speech at the workshop about the so-called “Deal of the Century” reminded him of the financial machinations of Wall Street.

“I saw a salesman trying to push a particular product, talking about numbers and opportunities without the slightest interest in the fact that he was talking about our lives and our situation,” he said.

Milhem and other Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative. President Mahmoud Abbas, who presides over a divided authority that is in perpetual financial crisis and depends on donor nations, invited members of the Foreign Press Association to his Ramallah headquarters. “We need the money and, really, we need assistance,” he told them. “But before everything, there is a political solution.”

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appeared on the Christiane Amanpour program on CNN International and wrote a column for the Washington Post headlined “Palestinians want freedom not Trump administration bribes.”

After Kushner’s speech, political analyst Lamis Andoni said that Palestinians are being asked to accept that if the prison conditions under which they live are to improve, the occupation
will continue. The US proposal is designed to silence Palestinians by giving them enough to survive, while giving a minority the chance to get rich, he said. “It didn’t work before and will not work now,” he added.

Husam Zulmot, head of the Palestine mission in the UK and former head of the Washington DC mission, said: “Palestine is not for sale.” He described Kushner’s plan as “deceptive” and “disingenuous,” arguing that it does not address the core issue: the occupation.

In Nablus, the deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud Aloul, issued a stern warning to Arab participants in the Bahrain workshop: “We tell our brothers that they have stabbed us in the back and your intervention in our cause has gone overboard and we will not allow that.” He qualified this by adding: “The US and Israel will continue to be our enemy but we will not consider you enemies; we will leave you to your own people and hope that your hibernation will not last long.”

The Palestinian Al Quds daily newspaper ran the front page headline “Opposition to the Deal of the Century hold protests throughout the homeland and the diaspora,” with a photo of the demonstrations in Ramallah covering the rest of the front page. It also published a two-page supplement quoting politicians from a number of movements, including Fatah and Hamas, along with analysts and pundits, all criticizing the Manama workshop.

Hani Elmasri, the head of the Masarat think tank in Ramallah. wrote an article in which he said that the “Trump deal will not succeed without a Palestinian cover, and will fail sooner or later, but while the plan has not succeed in liquidating Palestinian nationalism it has succeeded in stressing the facts of the occupation and made the possibility of a Palestinian struggle much more difficult. This means that it is not enough for Palestinians to reject this plan but they need to respond with a holistic strategy that must be political, economic and has to be a struggle by the people on all levels.”