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Thursday, February 8, 2007

UNIFIL: IDF troops didn't enter Lebanon

Though obviously Israel did not violate the Lebanese border, we can sure that future "narratives" of this event will claim that Israel did violate the Lebanese border. We should remember that immediately following the Hezbollah kidnapping in the summer, several sources insisted that Israel had violated the border. UNIFIL determined at the time that this was not true. Many more accounts omitted the fact that Hezbollah shelled civilian targets before Israel returned fire or did anything, prefering to pretend that Hezbollah had only attacked military personnel.
France now has the embarrasment of having convoked a Security Council meeting to defend its client, Lebanon, and finding that Lebanon was in the wrong. Nonetheless, may we dare to predict that resolutions will be offered condemning Israel for "provoking" Lebanon?

UNIFIL confirms Israel's version: IDF troops didn't enter Lebanon
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondents,
Haaretz Service and Agencies
      Last update - 22:18 08/02/2007

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) accepted on Thursday
Israel's version of the events that concluded in an exchange of fire between
the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Army at the border late

UNIFIL patrolled the area around Israel's and Lebanon's shared border,
photographed the site, and concluded that IDF troops operated entirely
within Israeli territory.

The Lebanese srmy on Wednesday fired warning shots at IDF troops, claiming
that the troops had entered Lebanese territory.

The incident occurred north of the border fence that Israel erected several
dozen meters within Israeli territory, but south of the actual international
border between the two countries.

UNIFIL has not yet completed the official report on the incident, however, a
UNIFIL representative briefed the UN Security Council on Thursday, and
confirmed Israel's version of the events.

Following the discussion on the matter, the UN Security Council called for
the renewal of coordination meetings between the IDF, the Lebanese Army and
UNIFIL that had been customary immediately following the Israel-Hezbollah
war this summer. Lebanon was not interested in the renewal of such meetings.

The Security Council convened at the behest of France. The French ambassdor
to the United Nations said Thursday that Paris wants the Council to discuss
and react to the Wednesday night border clash.

"We think that the council should have an exchange of views on this issue,
which is an important one," France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere
told reporters.

"I am just going to ask for a briefing from the secretariat."

On Wednesday night, an IDF tank fired two rounds at Lebanese Army positions
opposite Moshav Avivim, after Lebanese troops fired on IDF soldiers
searching for Hezbollah mines beyond the border fence but inside Israeli

The IDF suffered no casualties, while UNIFIL reported that five Lebanese
soldiers were wounded in the incident. The Lebanese Army has denied it
sustained any casualties.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Thursday denounced what he called
Israel's violation of the Lebanese border, saying IDF troops crossed the
internationally-recognized border line prior to the exchange of fire between
the two countries' forces. The incident was the first of its kind since the
aftermath of last summer's war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Siniora discussed the border clash with UN envoy Geir Pedersen, telling him
that his government condemned what he described as the new Israeli
aggression on Lebanon's sovereignty and what he called the violation of the
Blue Line, the UN-recognized border between the two countries.

Liam McDowell, a spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL),
said the exchange was initiated by the Lebanese army and that the IDF
bulldozer had crossed the border fence, but not the Blue Line, to clear

The border fence lies several dozen meters south of the Blue Line.

Speaking to Pedersen in front of reporters, Siniora said the incursion
compounded the daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli aircraft.

On Thursday morning, Israel Air Force planes flew twice over southern

The IDF confirmed the overflights, saying that, "The incident yesterday
hasn't led us to change our aerial activity."

Defense Minister Amir Peretz stressed Thursday that Israel is not seeking an
escalation along the border, but that the IDF would return fire when fired

Peretz's comments came after a special security consulatations on the
situation in the north.

Meeting with IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz and senior military officials,
Peretz said that the "Northern Command operated according to regulations and
in the necessary and correct manner, in keeping with UN Security Council
Resolution 1701."

"We have no intentions of escalation, but wherever there is fire endangering
IDF forces we will have to react," he said. "UNIFIL forces and the Lebanese
Army are fulfilling their roles, and we intend to continue to operate within
the political and regulatory framework established in recent months."

Peretz added that "there is no intention of returning to the policy of
looking the other way on Lebanon."

Earlier this week, four explosive devices were discovered in the area. IDF
sappers detonated them from a distance.

The IDF carried out yesterday's operation after informing UNIFIL and the
Lebanese Army of its intentions.

In response, the Lebanese Army warned the IDF that if its forces violated
Lebanese sovereignty, it would open fire.

The IDF said that it did not intend to cross into Lebanese territory, but if
its forces were attacked, it would respond.

Israel rejected Lebanese claims that it had violated Lebanese sovereignty,
saying that the force was south of the international border - inside
Israel - as delineated by the United Nations following the IDF pullout from
southern Lebanon in May 2000. In some places, the border and the fence are
several dozen meters apart.

Lebanese officials said an IDF bulldozer crossed the international border
and entered about 18 meters into Lebanon.

A spokesman for UNIFIL, however, confirmed the exchange was initiated by the
Lebanese Army after an IDF bulldozer crossed the border fence "in an
apparent attempt to clear mines between the Blue Line (international border)
and the fence."

"We characterise this as a serious incident between the Lebanese Army and
the IDF," the spokesman said.

The IDF operation in the area caused grave concern on the Lebanese side, and
drew the attention of the Lebanese Army.

Israel imposed a local media blackout, which was lifted as soon as
Hezbollah's Al-Manar went on the air with information about the operation.
Al-Manar gave the operation a great deal of coverage, reporting that an
Israeli armored column tried to cross into Lebanon close to Maroun al-Ras,
which is across from Avivim.

The report stated that UNIFIL and a Lebanese Army officer held discussions
with Israel, after which Israel agreed to cancel the mission.

The Lebanese News Agency reported that the Lebanese Army placed forces
deployed near Maroun al-Ras on alert, fearing that the IDF planned to
broaden its operation. It was also reported that IDF helicopters flew over
southern Lebanon villages.

The IDF Northern Command was unable to confirm whether the explosive devices
had been placed recently. Hezbollah, for its part, denied Tuesday that these
were new bombs, saying they had been placed before the war in July.

A GOC Northern Command officer said yesterday that Hezbollah is still
operating in southern Lebanon, but is keeping a low profile - its operatives
avoid public displays of weapons, and wear civilian clothes.

Northern Command sources report that Hezbollah is working hard to replenish
its ranks, sending conscripts for training in the Beka'a, in order to make
up for its losses during the war.

The officer said there has been a growing presence of Islamic Jihad
militants in southern Lebanon, as well as extremists affiliated with
Al-Qaida and Sunni groups. These groups are seeking to challenge Hezbollah's
hegemony in the area.

The IDF officer said the army intends to clear all salients between the
border and the fence of explosives.

"Our way of thinking has changed," the officer said. "Before the war, the
approach was that confrontation was bad for us, and therefore we kept away
from the fence. Now the approach is that we will operate up to the Blue Line
[the international border] and if the other side seeks a confrontation, it
will get it," the officer said.

This is not the first time the IDF has operated north of the border fence.

Following the army's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, the fence was
redrawn. At several points its path was routed south of the border, as far
as 100 meters in, in what the army cited as strategic considerations.

In searches conducted in recent months along the fence, IDF troops have
discovered Hezbollah positions and equipment which appear to have been used
in the abduction of two IDF soldiers in July 2006.

About two weeks ago, IDF troops destroyed two Hezbollah bunkers uncovered
during searches of the area around the border fence. One of the bunkers was
found during the war, and the other was uncovered last month.

Both bunkers were within Israel's territory, somewhere between the
international border and the border fence. The bunkers housed supplies, food
and tools that would enable a long stay underground.

'Syria rearming Hezbollah'

Defense Minister Amir Peretz on Wednesday accused Syria of allowing the
rearmament of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and said Israel has the right
to act forcefully against the Shiite militia to counter the threat.

Speaking to visiting U.S. Jewish leaders, Peretz said Syria, Hezbollah's
main ally, is continuing to allow weapons shipments to the group to cross
its border with Lebanon.

"We can't under any circumstances ignore the transfer of weapons and
ammunition to Hezbollah," Peretz said. "While Israel remains committed to
the cease-fire we reserve the right to protect the citizens of the State of
Israel and we will do this forcefully without any compromises."

In Beirut, a Hezbollah official declined comment.

About two weeks ago, IDF troops destroyed two Hezbollah bunkers uncovered
during searches of the area around the border fence. One of the bunkers was
found during the war, and the other was uncovered last month.

Both bunkers were within Israel's territory, somewhere between the
international border and the border fence. The bunkers housed supplies, food
and tools that would enable a long stay underground.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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