Israel finds last tunnel, ending mission on Lebanese border

A picture taken on December 21, 2018 from the South Lebanese village of Ramyeh shows an Israeli military outpost across the border. (AFP)
Updated 13 January 2019
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Israel finds last tunnel, ending mission on Lebanese border

  • Israel launched the "Operation Northern Shield" last month to detect and destroy what it called a vast network of Hezbollah tunnels
  • Israel and the United Nations say the tunnels violate a cease-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006

JERUSALEM: Israeli troops discovered the sixth and final tunnel dug by Hezbollah militants for cross-border attacks, the military announced Sunday, saying it was wrapping up its operation along the Lebanese border.
Military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the final tunnel was the largest one discovered so far, running hundreds of meters (yards) from under a Lebanese home and deep into Israeli territory. Israel launched the “Operation Northern Shield” early last month to detect and destroy what it called a vast network of Hezbollah tunnels aimed for militants to sneak across the border and carry out attacks.
Conricus said the latest tunnel originated from the Lebanese border town of Ramyeh. He said it was 55 meters deep and ran 800 meters inside Lebanese territory and also “dozens” of meters into Israel. It included stairs, a rail system and a wide a passageway that allowed for the movement of equipment and a large number of forces.
The tunnel would be destroyed in the coming days, Conricus said, adding that while more tunnels still existed on the Lebanese side of the border, this effectively marked the end of the ambitious military operation.
“We have achieved the goal that we set out to achieve a month and a half ago,” he said. “According to our intelligence, there are no longer any cross-border attack tunnels into Israel.”
Israel and the United Nations say the tunnels violate a cease-fire resolution that ended a devastating war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006. Conricus says the UN peacekeeping mission, known as UNIFIL, had been updated on the latest development.
In the wake of its discoveries, Israel has asked the international community to impose tough sanctions on Hezbollah and begin to act against its state-within-a-state operation in Lebanon.
The military said its forces would stay deployed along the border area to monitor for any other possible underground activity, and said it holds the Lebanese government responsible for everything happening in its territory.
The powerful Shiite militant Hezbollah, which acts independently in Lebanon, has yet to comment on the Israeli discoveries.
Israel has long called for a crackdown on the Iran-backed Hezbollah, a heavily armed mini-army that is believed to possess an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly all of Israel. In recent years, Hezbollah has been bogged down in fighting in Syria on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. But with that civil war winding down, Israeli security officials fear Hezbollah is refocusing its attention on Israel.
News of the operation’s conclusion comes in the final week of Israel’s outgoing military chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s four-year tenure. The latest discovery, coupled with a weekend strike against suspected Iranian and Hezbollah sites near the Damascus International Airport that is attributed to Israel, was perceived in Israeli media as Eisenkot’s “parting shot” as he leaved office.
He gave a series on interviews over the weekend summarizing his term and focusing on shifting the Israeli military’s attention toward Iran directly instead of just engaging its lesser proxies, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza. In a New York Times interview published on Friday Eisenkot said that Israel “has struck thousands of targets without claiming responsibility or asking for credit” as part of a shadow showdown with Qassim Suleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Quds Force.
Eisenkot also revealed that the government approved his shift in strategy in January 2017, stepping up air strikes in Syria. In 2018 alone, he said Israel’s air force dropped 2,000 bombs in Syria.


Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

Updated 22 January 2019
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Sudan security forces tear gas protesters in Omdurman

  • The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule
  • Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar to fend off tear gas

KHARTOUM: Sudanese police fired tear gas at crowds of demonstrators in the capital’s twin city Omdurman on Tuesday protesting against the fatal wounding of a demonstrator last week, witnesses said.

The demonstration, which came ahead of planned nighttime rallies in both Omdurman and Khartoum just across the Nile, was the latest in more than a month of escalating protests against the three-decade rule of President Omar Bashir.

Bashir has made defiant appearances at loyalist rallies in Khartoum and other cities.

Chanting “overthrow, overthrow” and “freedom, peace and justice,” the catchword slogans of the protest movement, the demonstrators had gathered near the home of their dead comrade.

The doctors’ branch of the Sudanese Professionals’ Association (SPA) said he had died on Monday from wounds sustained when demonstrators clashed with security forces in Khartoum on Thursday.

The SPA has taken the lead in organizing the protests after hundreds of opposition activists were detained, and its doctors’ branch has taken casualties.

Human rights groups say that several medics have been among more than 40 people killed in clashes with the security forces since the protests erupted on Dec. 19, 2018.

The authorities say 26 people have been killed, including at least one doctor, but blame rebel provocateurs they say have infiltrated the protesters’ ranks.

The mushrooming protests are widely seen as the biggest threat to Bashir’s rule since he took power in an Islamist-backed coup in 1989.

Triggered by the government’s tripling of the price of bread, which brought demonstrators onto the streets of the eastern farming hub of Atbara and other provincial towns, the protests rapidly spread to the metropolis and other big cities as people vented their anger against the government.

A chronic shortage of foreign currency since the breakaway of South Sudan in 2011 deprived the government of most of its oil revenues, has stoked spiraling inflation and widespread shortages.

Bashir has survived previous protest movements in September 2013 and January last year.

But his efforts to blame the US for Sudan’s economic woes have fallen on increasingly deaf ears as people have struggled to buy even basic foods and medicines.

“I am tired of prices going up every minute and standing up in bread lines for hours only for the bakery’s owner to decide how many loaves I can buy,” a 42-year-old woman, Fatima, said during protests last week on the outskirts of the capital of Khartoum.

Fatima and others speaking to the AP would not provide their full names, insisting on anonymity because they fear reprisals by the authorities.

Protesters described using medical masks soaked in vinegar or yeast and tree leaves to fend off tear gas. They said they try to fatigue police by staging nighttime flash protests in residential alleys unfamiliar to the security forces.

“We have used tactics employed by the Egyptians, Tunisians and Syrians but we have so far refrained from pelting security forces with rocks or firebombs,” said Ashraf, another demonstrator.

They said there was little they can do about live ammunition except to keep medics and doctors close by to administer first aid to casualties.

They also described checking paths of planned protests to identify escape routes and potential ambushes by police. Some of their slogans are borrowed from the Arab Spring days, like “the people want to bring down the regime.”