Lebanon News

Low-altitude Israeli warplanes fly over Beirut

Israeli jets fly over UNIFIL peacekeepers in Adaisseh. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT/ADEISSEH: Hours after the Foreign Ministry said it would report Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty to the United Nations Friday, fighter jets belonging to the Jewish state sped across the skies above Beirut at low altitudes.

Although Israel breaches Lebanese airspace and territorial waters on a near-daily basis, Friday’s violations doubled down on Israel’s continued aggressions of disputed border points near south Lebanon.

A security source said U.N. peacekeeping forces in south Lebanon should remove cement blocks that Israel had placed in contested areas.

“We have recorded the breaches’ exact measurements, down to centimeters,” the source told The Daily Star.

Meanwhile, caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil ordered a complaint to be submitted to the U.N. Security Council over the cement border wall, which has encroached on disputed points of territory south of the Blue Line.

Thursday, Israeli forces placed 25 cement blocks near the settlement of Miskaf Aam, opposite the Lebanese town of Adaisseh. Six of the blocks were placed on disputed points. In response, the Lebanese Army deployed reinforcements to the area.

Throughout the day Friday, Israeli machinery continued working in the disputed areas after the Israeli construction team had briefly moved back. Groups on both sides of the border increased personnel, while Israel deployed a tank on a hill on its side of the border and launched a drone. The Lebanese Army and UNIFIL deployed soldiers and armored vehicles in the area.

The Army also dispatched a topographical team to mark the exact points where the Israeli project had breached the disputed area.

A UNIFIL liaison team went into territories across the border and could be seen holding maps and observing the disputed points.

Despite UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti saying Friday that the Israeli operations were not violating the Blue Line, the Lebanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “The UNSC must take seriously Lebanon’s assertion that the wall violates UNSC Resolution 1701, just as it did Israel’s recent allegations that Hezbollah had dug ‘attack tunnels’ into its territory.”

UNIFIL recently condemned violations of Resolution 1701 over underground tunnels found going from Lebanon into Israel, though the peacekeeping force did not accuse Hezbollah. UNIFIL has not publically condemned Israel’s violations in the past two days, including the flying of warplanes over Beirut and other parts of the country, which was confirmed to The Daily Star by a Lebanese Army source.

However, when asked about Friday’s flyover, Tenenti said violations are reported to the Security Council and UNIFIL is “constantly” telling the Israeli army to stop encroaching on Lebanese airspace and territorial waters. He also said the situation on the southern Lebanese border was stable and that UNIFIL is in contact with all the parties to “prevent misunderstandings” and find a solution for “this issue.”

Lebanon’s Higher Defense Council Thursday said it considered Israel’s actions along the southern border to be “an attack on Lebanese territory, which is a clear violation of Article 5 of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701.” Article 5 of the resolution, which ended the July 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, upholds Lebanon’s territorial “integrity, sovereignty and political independence.”

Besides saying it would file a complaint, the defense council added it would increase diplomatic contacts to explain Lebanon’s stance on the Israeli aggressions.

A political source told The Daily Star that Lebanon’s top political and security officials called for the Higher Defense Council meeting after a tripartite meeting earlier Thursday failed to stop Israel’s infractions.

Speaker Nabih Berri also said he would raise the issue with U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs David Hale, who will visit Lebanon next Monday.

But former UNIFIL spokesman Timur Goksel described the recent activity as nothing unusual.

“I don’t think any of these events are out of the ordinary and don’t think it will lead to escalation,” Goksel, now the Turkey editor of Al-Monitor, told The Daily Star.

“This is all just talk, talk, talk. UNIFIL can keep things calm and it’ll talk to both sides.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 12, 2019, on page 3.

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