Israel Stops Overflights in Lebanese Airspace; Hizbullah Claims Victory
A decision by Israel to reduce overflights in Lebanese airspace was greeted by Lebanese Resistance group Hizbullah Tuesday as an “Arab victory” comparable to the withdrawal of Israeli troops from south Lebanon in May 2000.
Although Israel has ruled out a complete cessation of overflights, it has made it known that it is willing to cut the number of what it calls “reconnaissance” patrols over Lebanon, reported The Daily Star.
The decision to reduce overflights is seen as an attempt to defuse tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border after Hizbullah gunners began firing 57mm anti-aircraft rounds across the frontier when Israeli aircraft violated Lebanese airspace.
These rounds exploded over Israeli settlements, alarming residents. No Israeli overflights have been recorded by UNIFIL for over a week.
Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, Hizbullah’s southern commander, attributed the Israeli reduction of overflights to the anti-aircraft fire. “The resistance was able to force Israel to retreat once again to the edge of the abyss by adopting a new formula to reply to overflights of enemy warplanes thus scoring an additional Arab victory similar to that of May 24, 2000,” Qaouk said at a commemoration in Adchit.
He added that “it also represents a significant gesture in support of the Palestinian intifada.”
The United Nations has repeatedly condemned the Israeli overflights, describing them as “provocative” and violations of the UN-delineated Blue Line.
According to diplomatic sources, the decision to reduce the number of overflights came after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon failed to convince US President George W. Bush during his latest visit to Washington that Hizbullah’s anti-aircraft fire was an act of international terrorism in breach of UN Security Council Resolution 1373.
Instead, US and UN diplomats exerted more pressure on Israel to stop the overflights, fearing that Hizbullah’s anti-aircraft fire would spark a cross-border escalation if Israeli civilians were hurt by falling shrapnel.
“Now it seems that the enemy is down on the ground and bleeding at political, military and security levels,” Qaouk said. “All we have to do now is to finish it off,” he was quoted as saying by The Daily Star. (Albawaba.com)