Standoff over Hezbollah outpost on Lebanon border

In this file photo, Israeli soldiers stand position in northern Israel along the border with Lebanon near a Hezbollah flag in Sept. 2022. (AFP/File Photo)
In this file photo, Israeli soldiers stand position in northern Israel along the border with Lebanon near a Hezbollah flag in Sept. 2022. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 01 July 2023
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Standoff over Hezbollah outpost on Lebanon border

Standoff over Hezbollah outpost on Lebanon border
  • Militant group rejects Israeli demand to remove tents amid threat of military action
  • Tensions rise as deadline nears for renewal of UNIFIL forces’ mandate at end of August

BEIRUT: Hezbollah is refusing Israeli demands that it dismantle an outpost set up in the disputed hills of Kfarshouba on the border between Lebanon and Israel.

Amid a tense standoff between the militant group and Israel over the issue, Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace at low altitude over the border towns of Bint Jbeil and Marjayoun on Saturday.

The presence of the outpost — two military tents and a temporary structure occupied by Hezbollah fighters — gained prominence after it was discussed in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in the Knesset last Tuesday.

The Israeli army had tried to keep the issue under wraps for weeks.

BACKGROUND

A security source told an Israeli news site that Israel had sent messages to Lebanon through diplomatic and military channels in June regarding Hezbollah’s placement of military tents beyond the borders.

Israeli news sites recently claimed that “Israel is preparing to forcibly remove military points established by Hezbollah on the border with Lebanon.”

MP Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc, said on Saturday that “the time has passed when the Israelis bombed Osirak nuclear reactor without batting an eyelid.

“Now the Israelis cannot remove two tents because there is strong resistance, strong men, and believers in this country.”

In a remark directed at Israel, Raad said: “If you do not want a war, then be quiet.”

He added: “Neither you nor anyone else can demand that the resistance removes what belongs to Lebanon.”

Raad also said the Israeli side had been protesting against the two tents on the border for a month, claiming that they were placed in an advanced position on the Blue Line — as they interpret it.

He added: “Israel demands their removal, and prefers that the resistance removes them because if the Israel remove the tents, a war will occur and Israel does not want that.”

Last Wednesday, a security source told the Israeli news site Walla News that Israel had sent messages to the Lebanese through diplomatic and military channels in June regarding Hezbollah’s placement of military tents beyond the borders.

However, the response was that “this is Lebanese territory.”

According to the Israeli news site, the security source said that the Israeli army is preparing to carry out “an engineering operation to remove Hezbollah’s tents using bulldozers and tanks.”

The source also claimed that Hezbollah is transferring forces from the elite unit (Al-Ridwan) to the border areas with Israel, in preparation for infiltration operations in northern settlements.

Hezbollah also establishes military positions every two weeks a few meters away from the border, the source alleged.

Citing Israeli and US sources, the Israeli news site reported that Israel — with the support of the US —   was trying to pressure the Lebanese government to remove the outpost by sending “harsh messages to the Lebanese government, the Lebanese army, and UNIFIL forces.”

A source at the Israeli Foreign Ministry said that Hezbollah members set up a tent about 30 meters south of the Blue Line on April 8 and then added another tent a few weeks later, as well as a water tank and a power generator.

At the end of 2022, Lebanon completed the demarcation of its maritime borders with Israel through US mediation.

However, the indirect negotiations between the two sides did not cover the land borders.

The Blue Line is a temporary and non-final line drawn by UNIFIL forces after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

The Lebanese army counts 13 points with different border demarcations with Israel.

There is still an ongoing dispute over the Shebaa Farms and Kfarshouba hills.

Israel occupied these areas during the June 1967 war, and they were not demarcated within the Blue Line after Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000.

According to documents held by the UN, these areas are considered Syrian territory, while Lebanon claims that they are Lebanese lands.

Syria has not yet submitted documents confirming their Lebanese identity to the UN despite verbal recognition by Syrian officials of their Lebanese identity.

Lebanese from Kfarshouba protested about a month ago against the excavations carried out by the Israeli army in lands that they consider to be their property and are currently occupied.

They crossed into the Israeli-occupied area and remained there to demonstrate their objection to these excavations.

Hezbollah continued to carry out resistance operations in the hills of Kfarshouba and on the outskirts of the Shebaa Farms area after 2000.

However, Hezbollah has scaled back its activities after the 2006 war in light of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

The new tension in the Kfarshouba hills area coincides with the approaching deadline for the renewal of UNIFIL forces’ mandate in southern Lebanon at the end of August in the Security Council, according to the renewal formula adopted in 2022.

The renewal included an expansion of UNIFIL’s powers, such that it does not have to coordinate with the Lebanese army.

Lebanon rejected this amendment, which was demanded by the US, France and Britain.

The Israeli and Lebanese violations of Resolution 1701 that have taken place this year could further complicate discussions on the renewal of UNIFIL’s mandate.

These violations include the launch of unidentified rockets from southern Lebanon toward Israeli-occupied territories, the attack on an Irish UNIFIL patrol resulting in the death of a soldier and the injury of others, and the Lebanese military judiciary’s accusation of individuals belonging to Hezbollah of responsibility for this attack.

 


US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks

US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks
Updated 11 sec ago
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US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks

US envoy due in Beirut to continue de-escalation talks
BEIRUT: US envoy Amos Hochstein will visit Beirut on Monday to continue diplomatic efforts aimed at de-escalating the conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border and bringing stability, a senior Lebanese official and a White House official said on Sunday.
The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel have been locked in hostilities for months in parallel to the Gaza war. It has marked the worst conflict between the heavily armed adversaries since a 2006 war, fueling fears of an even bigger confrontation.
Lebanon deputy parliament speaker Elias Bou Saab, one of the officials due to meet Hochstein, told Reuters he believed the timing of his visit pointed to progress in efforts to secure a Gaza truce “within the next few hours or days.”
“If this happens, I believe that Hochstein’s visit this time will be of great importance to follow up on the truce on our southern borders and to discuss what is needed for stability and ending the possibility of the expansion of the war with Lebanon,” he said.
The White House official did not offer further details about the visit.
Washington has said a ceasefire deal in the Gaza war is close and is aiming to have it be in effect by the start of Ramadan, a week away.
Israel however boycotted talks in Cairo on Sunday after Hamas rejected its demand for a complete list of hostages that are still alive, an Israeli newspaper reported.
Hezbollah has publicly indicated that it would halt its attacks on Israel from Lebanon when the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip stops, but that it was also ready to keep on fighting if Israel continued hostilities.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati told Reuters on Thursday that a halt to fighting in the Gaza Strip as early as this week would trigger indirect talks to end hostilities along Lebanon’s southern border with Israel.
Bou Saab said Hochstein had “serious ideas that may provide the beginning of a sustainable solution, stability, and banishing the spectre of war that will not be in anyone’s interest.”
Hochstein, who visited Beirut in January, previously brokered a rare diplomatic deal between Lebanon and Israel in 2022 to delineate their maritime border.
Designated a terrorist group by the United States, Hezbollah has not been a direct party to his diplomatic efforts. Instead his ideas have been passed on by Lebanese mediators. The group wields significant influence over the Lebanese state.
The Gaza war began when Hamas stormed Israel on Oct. 7, in an attack that killed 1,200 people and resulted in another 253 being abducted, according to Israeli tallies.
More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip in the Israeli offensive launched in response, according to Gaza health authorities.

Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara

Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara
Updated 22 min 42 sec ago
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Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara

Abbas to discuss intra-Palestinian dialogue in Ankara
  • The Israeli military said on Sunday it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, destroying dozens of militant targets in a blitz of air and artillery strikes

ANKARA: Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas will visit Turkiye on Tuesday for talks about the Gaza war and reconciliation efforts between Palestinian factions, the Turkish foreign minister said.
The visit comes as intensive diplomacy is underway to pause the fighting in the almost five-month-old war between Israel and Hamas sparked by the Oct. 7 attacks.
Turkiye’s Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said: “There is a serious desire and effort to reach a ceasefire before Ramadan,” in closing remarks to an annual diplomacy forum in the Mediterranean holiday resort of Antalya.
Fidan confirmed that Abbas would visit Ankara on Tuesday at the invitation of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause.
Both leaders would discuss “the developments in Palestine, the current course of the war as well as the intra-Palestinian dialogue, Fidan said.
Hamas is a rival of Abbas’s Fatah faction that rules the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank.
It ousted Fatah from Gaza in 2007 following its landslide victory in the previous Palestinian parliamentary elections.
Erdogan has become one of the harshest critics of Israel’s war in Gaza.
He has branded Israel a “terrorist state” and compared Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler while calling Hamas “a liberation group.”
The Israeli military said on Sunday it intensified operations in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, destroying dozens of militant targets in a blitz of air and artillery strikes.
The air force and artillery hit about 50 targets within six minutes, it said, in a bid to “intensify operational achievements in the area.”
“During the strikes, the troops destroyed terrorist infrastructure and eliminated Hamas terrorists who were operating from civilian facilities in urban areas,” it said.
Residents in the area said they were surprised by the swift advancement of Israeli tanks, which sparked fresh battles with gunmen.
In one housing project some families took to social media, saying they were unable to leave their homes with the tanks in the streets.
Islamic Jihad said it attacked two tanks with rockets and blew up a building where soldiers had entered.
Khan Younis has been a focus of Israel’s military offensive in recent weeks.

 


Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks in Riyadh.
Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks in Riyadh.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Maintaining GCC-Egypt diplomatic links vital to regional security: Egyptian foreign minister

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry speaks in Riyadh.
  • Gulf ministers briefed on breakdown in talks over Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam

CAIRO: Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry on Sunday highlighted the importance of Cairo maintaining its strong links with Gulf Cooperation Council countries.

His comments came as he took part in a joint consultative meeting of Egypt and GCC foreign ministers in Riyadh.

In a speech, Shoukry noted the increased significance of political consultation in tackling key issues of mutual concern and the shared social and economic strategic interests of Egypt and council member nations.

He also pointed out that solid relations between the parties were vital in working toward stability in the region and dealing with the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that during the meeting in the Saudi capital, Shoukry warned of the disastrous humanitarian repercussions of any ground military operation by Israel in the city of Rafah and the threat such action would pose to regional security.

And he called on Israel to stop obstructing the access of humanitarian aid to the Strip.

The Egyptian minister also discussed with his GCC counterparts continued Iran-backed Houthi attacks on international shipping in the Red Sea, along with the latest situations in Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Somalia.

Regarding the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, Shoukry highlighted what he described as Ethiopia’s uncompromising approach to tackling project issues with its neighbors, a stance that had led Cairo to withdraw from negotiations.

GCC Secretary-General Jasem Al-Budaiwi said it was crucial that Arab nations cooperated in dealing with regional challenges including bringing about a Gaza ceasefire and ensuring Nile water security for Egypt and Sudan.


Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

Alaa Moussa participates in a meeting of ambassadors of five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker PM Najib Mikati.
Alaa Moussa participates in a meeting of ambassadors of five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker PM Najib Mikati.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Egyptian envoy highlights support for Lebanon stability efforts

Alaa Moussa participates in a meeting of ambassadors of five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker PM Najib Mikati.
  • The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant
  • He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation

CAIRO: Alaa Moussa, Egyptian ambassador to Lebanon, participated in a meeting of the ambassadors of the five-nation group in Lebanon with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and ambassadors from Saudi Arabia, France, the US, and Qatar.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo said Egypt participated in the meeting to support Lebanon and promote its stability.

The ambassador emphasized Egypt’s support for electing a new president for Lebanon 16 months after the position became vacant.

He also stressed the urgency of completing this process due to the regional situation.

Moussa and other ambassadors emphasized the five-nation group’s role: to assist Lebanese parties in reaching a fair and transparent agreement on electing the president through dialogue or consultation.

The five-nation group will not interfere with the appointment of the next Lebanese president, which is the exclusive role of the Lebanese parliament.

Mikati said he appreciated the five countries’ efforts to support Lebanon in facing its current challenges.

He also said electing a new president is crucial in completing Lebanon’s state institutions and implementing necessary political and economic reforms to overcome the current crises.

The Arab and international community launched the coordination framework last year to support Lebanon, which has been without a president since the end of former President Michel Aoun’s term in October 2022.


Houthis vow to sink more UK ships in the Red Sea 

UK-owned vessel Rubymar, which had sunk in the Red Sea after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Houthis.
UK-owned vessel Rubymar, which had sunk in the Red Sea after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Houthis.
Updated 03 March 2024
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Houthis vow to sink more UK ships in the Red Sea 

UK-owned vessel Rubymar, which had sunk in the Red Sea after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile fired by Houthis.
  • The US military confirmed on Saturday that the UK-owned vessel Rubymar had sunk after being struck by an anti-ship ballistic missile

AL-MUKALLA: Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia vowed on Sunday to target more UK ships in the Red Sea, despite growing worldwide outrage over the sinking of a vessel carrying thousands of tonnes of fertilizer. 

Hussein Al-Ezzi, the group’s deputy foreign minister, said that its forces would continue sinking ships in the Red Sea, even if it meant causing an ecological disaster off Yemen’s coasts. He also blamed the UK for participating in US-led strikes against Houthi areas, as well as supporting Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Al-Ezzi said in a post on X: “Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damage will be added to Britain’s bill, as it is a rogue state that attacks Yemen and partners with America in sponsoring the ongoing crime against civilians in Gaza.”

The Houthi threats came a day after the Yemeni government and the US Central Command announced that the Belize-flagged Rubymar, which was hit by the militia’s missiles last month, sank with a cargo of more than 21,000 tonnes of fertilizer, raising concerns about possible environmental disaster for Red Sea coral reefs, along with shipping using the route.

The Houthis said that the ship was owned by the UK and was targeted in retribution for the country’s strikes on Yemen, as well as its backing for Israel’s blockade and bombing of Gaza.

The Houthis have seized the commercial ship Galaxy Leader and launched hundreds of drones and missile strikes against commercial and naval vessels in the Red Sea, Bab Al-Mandab, and the Gulf of Aden, since November.

The group says it has banned any Israel-bound ships from passing across the Red Sea in order to force Israel to allow humanitarian assistance into the besieged Gaza Strip.

Yemen’s Minister of Transport Abdul Salam Humaid said in a statement on Saturday that he had asked the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea & Gulf of Aden, based in Jeddah, and other marine conservation bodies for assistance in containing any pollution from the ship, as well as help in forming a legal commission to force the ship’s owners to remove the vessel and its cargo.

The US Central Command said on Sunday that the ship’s cargo of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer constituted a hazard to nautical life, and that the sinking ship was also a risk to other vessels passing through the Red Sea.

The US military said in a statement: “As the ship sinks, it also presents a subsurface impact risk to other ships transiting the busy shipping lanes of the waterway. The Houthis pose a heightened threat to global maritime activities.”

Despite worldwide condemnation and warnings about the consequences of its actions, the Houthis have renewed threats to obstruct a rescue mission for the ship prior to humanitarian aid arriving in Gaza.

Yemen’s Houthi leader Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi blamed the sinking of the Rubymar on UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his government, saying on Saturday that his group would only let the world rescue the ship if Israel lifted its siege of Gaza.

Al-Houthi said on X: “We say to Sunak, you and your government are responsible for the (sinking of the) ship MV Rubymar, as well as for supporting genocide and the blockade of Gaza.”

The militia has said it would release the crew of the Galaxy Leader if requested to do so by Hamas.

Nasr Al-Din Amer, a Houthi media official, said: “Given that the crew was operating on a ship related to Israel, their governments may make a request to the brothers in the Hamas organization, and if they accept, we have no objections.”