Envoy Acknowledges Hizbollah Tunnels But Says UN Denied Access to Them

Published January 24th, 2019 - 01:50 GMT
IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield (AFP/ File)
IDF searches for Hezbollah tunnels as part of Operation Northern Shield (AFP/ File)

The United Nations’ envoy to the Middle East said Tuesday that peacekeepers in Lebanon had not been given access to tunnels stretching into Israel that U.N. officials say violate Security Council Resolution 1701.

Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, told the Security Council that UNIFIL has confirmed that two tunnels crossed the U.N.-demarcated Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel, but “has not been granted access to the confirmed entry points of a tunnel near Kfar Kila on the Lebanese side.”

He did not say whether Lebanon’s government or Hezbollah was blocking access for UNIFIL, but U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen blamed the government.

Cohen accused Hezbollah of threatening international peace and security with the tunnels Israel claims the group built into its territory.

“We commend UNIFIL’s work to keep the Blue Line under control, but it is unacceptable that the Lebanese government has not yet given UNIFIL access to the tunnel entrance on their side of the Blue Line,” Cohen told the council.

Last month, Israel claimed it had found “Hezbollah attack tunnels” dug into its territory from southern Lebanon, and launched Operation Northern Shield to destroy them.

The Jewish state announced earlier this month that it had completed the operation. Hezbollah has not commented on the Israeli allegations, and the Lebanese Army has been on alert along the border.

“Based on UNIFIL’s independent assessment, we have so far confirmed the existence of four tunnels close to the Blue Line in northern Israel. Of these, UNIFIL has confirmed that two of the tunnels cross the Blue Line,” UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told The Daily Star.

“These constitute violations of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and have been accordingly reported by UNIFIL to the Security Council,” he said, referring to the U.N. resolution that ended the 2006 War between Israel and Hezbollah.

He added that UNIFIL and the Lebanese Army had previously surveyed the area around the Marjayoun village of Kfar Kila near a poultry farm, which had previously been used as a concrete factory.

“UNIFIL had previously observed liquified cement flowing out from under the building,” Tenenti said. The Israeli army previously distributed footage that it said showed sealing material gushing from the opening of that tunnel, which purportedly led to the Israeli town of Metula.

“UNIFIL has simultaneously engaged with Lebanese authorities to urge appropriate follow-up action by [the Lebanese Army], in coordination with UNIFIL, to identify and inspect suspected areas on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line,” Tenenti said.

He said that UNIFIL’s main concern has been to ensure calm and stability along the Blue Line are maintained. The peacekeeping mission also wants to see that “public speculations are avoided, rhetoric toned down by all sides, and the focus is kept on determining the facts on the ground so that corrective measures could be taken where required in accordance with Resolution 1701.”

Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon complained to the council that “the Lebanese Army has taken no action in response, allowing Hezbollah to continue building these tunnels undisturbed.”

He alleged that Iran funnels $7 billion to groups across the region, including $1 billion to Hezbollah, which he said has “grand plans to take over the Israeli Galilee” and invests millions in every tunnel.

He provided no information on how Israel calculated its estimate of Iranian spending, which also included $4 billion to the Syrian government, “hundreds of millions” to Iran’s proxies in Iraq, tens of millions to Houthi rebels in Yemen, $70 million to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and $50 million to Hamas.

This article has been adapted from its original source.

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