Netanyahu Blames UN for Hezbollah Arms Flow Within Lebanon

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Monday, February 2, 2015

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused United Nations peacekeepers on Sunday of failing to enforce a resolution barring Hezbollah fighters from smuggling weapons into Lebanon, as Israeli jets continues to violate Lebanon’s airspace on daily basis.

In a phone call with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Netanyahu blamed Iran, Hezbollah's main supporter, for Wednesday's flare-up, the worst fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces since a 2006 war.

He said that a resolution ending that 34-day conflict was "not being implemented," and that the peacekeepers, known as the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) "aren't reporting on weapons smuggling into southern Lebanon."

Hezbollah last week claimed responsibility for an attack against an Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) convoy in Israeli-occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms that left a number of Israeli soldiers dead.

According to Israeli figures, two soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded, although Hezbollah-owned Al-Manar news channel said the toll was much higher.

Following Wednesday’s attack, Israeli forces hit several Lebanese villages along the border, killing a 36-year-old UN peacekeeper.

The UN Security Council condemned the death of the Spanish corporal and the Spanish envoy said he had asked for a full investigation of the peacekeeper’s death during an emergency meeting of the council called by France to discuss ways to defuse tensions between Israel and Lebanon.

Netanyahu "expressed sorrow" for the UN soldier's death and said he had agreed with Spain to jointly investigate the circumstances, a statement for the Israeli leader's office said.

The UN force has policed southern Lebanon since a deal achieved after a 1978 Israeli incursion. However, UNIFIL has mostly acted as a monitor or mediator rather than prevent violations.

Hezbollah's attack was seen as revenge for the January 18 Israeli helicopter airstrike on the Syrian city of Quneitra near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights that killed six Hezbollah fighters, including a commander, Mohammed Abu Issa, and the son of assassinated senior commander Imad Mughniyeh, as well as Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Mohammed Ali Allahdadi.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech on Friday that Israel had “planned, calculated and took a premeditated decision to assassinate” the fighters, saying that the motive behind the attack was crystal clear.

“They killed us in broad daylight, we kill them in broad daylight … they struck two of our vehicles, we targeted two of their vehicles,” Nasrallah said, likening the Quneitra strike to the one by Hezbollah in Shebaa.

“The only difference is that we announced that Israel struck our fighters in Quneitra half an hour after the attack, whereas the Israelis didn’t,” Nasrallah continued, adding that the number of casualties on the Israeli side was “debatable.”

The exchange of fire triggered concerns the conflict could escalate, with Israel nervous at Hezbollah's deployment not only in Lebanon but now also across the Syrian frontier, where the fighters have been fighting extremist groups alongside the Syrian army.

In his remarks to Ban, Netanyahu accused Tehran of trying to widen the conflict against Israel, and complained that "until now the world community has not pointed an accusatory finger at Iran, which was behind the attack on the northern border."

Israel and Hezbollah have signaled that despite the violence, they are not interested in a further escalation, and despite increased vigilance on both sides the border area has been calm for the past four days.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah would retaliate against any future Israeli attacks on its members “whenever, however and wherever,” adding that the Hezbollah “no longer cares about the rules of engagement anymore.”

“Don’t try us,” Nasrallah defiantly said to Israel.

Last October, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for detonating a bomb that targeted an Israeli tank near the Sadan Israeli military post in the Israeli-occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms.

The group said in a statement at the time that the attack was carried out by the "martyr Ali Hassan Haidar unit," which is named for a Hezbollah member killed on September 5, when an Israeli spying device in Lebanon was detonated remotely as he tried to dismantle it.

Nasrallah said Israel has violated Lebanese’ sovereignty and the 1701 UN resolution “thousands of times” and “on daily basis.”

In October, Israeli forces shot and wounded a Lebanese soldier in Jabal Sadanneh, west of the disputed Shebaa Farms area.

The Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) reported that the IOF had fired at a Lebanese army outpost, prompting a state of immediate battle readiness by the army as UNIFIL was contacted over the act of aggression.

Tensions regularly break out between Israeli and Lebanese troops along the so-called Blue Line, the ceasefire line drawn up by the UN in 2000 after Israeli troops withdrew, ending a 22-year occupation of south Lebanon.

Besides Lebanese troops, Israeli forces regularly target southern Lebanese shepherds and their herds, by either opening fire at them or abducting them.

In August, Israeli forces shot at a shepherd and killed two of his sheep, abducted a Lebanese shepherd, and failed to kidnap two other shepherds and instead stole their herd of goats.

Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes violate Lebanon’s airspace on a nearly daily basis and have launched several attacks against Syrian targets in recent months, some reportedly carried out from over Lebanon. An infographic of the number of Israeli overflights in Lebanon in 2011 showed that Israeli planes breached Lebanese sovereignty roughly five to 10 times a week on average that year.

On Thursday, NNA said Israeli fighter jets penetrated deep into Lebanese airspace, startling residents as the jets flew over the capital Beirut. Israeli jets were also seen flying over southern Lebanese towns.

(Reuters, Al-Akhbar)

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