Beirut in Flurry of Diplomatic Activity Against Israel Strikes on Lebanon

Published August 27th, 2019 - 09:30 GMT
Northern Israeli town of Avivim shows a Hezbollah flag in the Lebanon village of Aitaroun (AFP)
Northern Israeli town of Avivim shows a Hezbollah flag in the Lebanon village of Aitaroun (AFP)
The U.N. called for “maximum restraint” by all parties after the Israeli drone attack on a Hezbollah stronghold south of Beirut.

Lebanese leaders Monday launched a flurry of diplomatic activity designed to bring pressure to bear on Israel to halt its repeated violations of Lebanon’s territory, after Israeli air attacks raised the potential for a new confrontation with Hezbollah.

President Michel Aoun told the United Nations representative in Lebanon the Israeli drone episode amounted to a “declaration of war” that gave Lebanon the right to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The U.N. called for “maximum restraint” by all parties after the Israeli drone attack on a Hezbollah stronghold south of Beirut.

Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. was unable to confirm the reports about Sunday’s incident, one of the latest in a series of attacks reported in the region in recent days. “The United Nations calls on the parties to exercise maximum restraint both in action and rhetoric,” he said.

“It is imperative for all to avoid an escalation and abide by relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Meanwhile, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said late Monday that he spoke with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and supports Israel’s right to defend itself from imminent threats.

Aoun, after consulting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, called for an emergency meeting of the Higher Defense Council at Beiteddine Palace at 5 p.m. Tuesday to discuss the reverberations of the “Israeli aggression on Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Qusaya area in the Bekaa and take the appropriate decisions on them,” a statement from the president’s media office said.

Hariri met at the Grand Serail with the ambassadors and deputy heads of mission of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council - the United States, Russia, China, France and the United Kingdom - to brief them on the “gravity of the situation after Israel clearly violated Lebanese sovereignty and [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 1701 by targeting a civilian populated area, paying no heed to international law or the lives of civilians.”

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“The Lebanese government sees an interest in avoiding any slide toward a dangerous escalation. But this requires the international community to prove its rejection of this flagrant violation of our sovereignty and Resolution 1701,” Hariri told the envoys, his media office said.The premier informed the envoys that Lebanon would lodge an official complaint with the U.N. Security Council against the Israeli attack.

“It is very important that your countries maintain the existing consensus among them to preserve security and stability in Lebanon and the region, because any escalation may turn into a cycle of regional violence, the scope of which no one can predict,” Hariri said.

He added that Israel should be held responsible for its “continued violations” of Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah. “It [Israel] must also be held responsible for the blatant attack on Beirut’s suburbs, while knowing in advance that this might threaten the current balance that has preserved the security of the international border for 13 years,” Hariri said.

Earlier in the day, Hariri met separately with U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jan Kubis and top Lebanese security officials, including Army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun, discussing the aftermath of the Israeli drone attack. He also met with Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab and Interior Minister Raya El Hassan.

At around 2:30 a.m. Sunday, two Israeli drones were spotted in the Mouawad area of Beirut’s southern suburbs, an area where Hezbollah maintains several offices and enjoys wide support.

One subsequently exploded, and the other crashed, outside the office of the party’s media center in a building that was residential.

Then early Monday, a member of a Palestinian guerrilla organization told The Daily Star that an unmanned Israeli aircraft had fired three rockets at the group’s base in east Lebanon. A Lebanese Army source told The Daily Star that the Israeli strike on the base for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command in Qusaya took place on the Syrian side of the border with Lebanon.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah Sunday described the Israeli drone attack as “very, very, very dangerous.” He vowed retaliation for the attack, as well as for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed two Hezbollah fighters. Nasrallah also warned that from now on, Hezbollah would confront and shoot down any Israeli drones that entered Lebanese airspace.

A day after Nasrallah’s speech, Hezbollah forces in Lebanon went on high alert, security sources said.

Despite Nasrallah’s warning to down them, multiple Israeli drones were reported to have flown over Lebanese airspace Monday.

Israeli surveillance drones flew over the city of Baalbeck, the district of Marjayoun and over the occupied Shebaa Farms and Arqoub.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said his country remained vigilant about the possibility of a Hezbollah attack under orders from its regional archfoe Iran. “Undoubtedly, the situation is tense. One does not know what a new day will bring,” Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s Security Cabinet, said in a video interview with Israel’s Ynet news website.

Local TV footage from the Lebanese-Israel border showed life was normal on the Lebanese side of the border, with farmers working in their fields, just opposite Israeli settlements. No Israeli soldiers or military vehicles that used to patrol the border region frequently were seen.

Speaking during a meeting with Kubis, Aoun said Lebanon would file a complaint with the Security Council against the Israeli aggression on Beirut’s southern suburbs.

“Lebanon retains its right to defend itself because what happened is a declaration of war that gives us the right to defend our sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity,” Aoun said, according to a statement released by his media office. “We don’t accept anyone threatening us in any way. We are a people who seek peace and not war.”

The president told Kubis that the drone attack and the Israeli airstrike on the Palestinian base in Qusaya violated Resolution 1701.

“I have previously repeated before you that Lebanon will not fire a single shot from the border unless it is in self-defense. What happened yesterday [Sunday] permits us to exercise this right,” Aoun told the U.N. representative.

Aoun stressed that the extension of UNIFIL’s mandate, which expires at the end of this month, was urgently needed and essential to maintaining stability along the Lebanese-Israeli border.

Kubis, who also met with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, tweeted Monday that he had held a “timely and useful” meeting with an unspecified senior Hezbollah official, and that “important messages [had been] exchanged by both sides.”

This article has been adapted from its original source.

Copyright © 2022, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.

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