UN find Hezbollah tunnels under Israeli side of border, Netanyahu urges action

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A UN investigation showed Wednesday that two tunnels allegedly dug by the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah snaked under the Israel side of the tense border -- but the probe did not find any exits located there.

It called the findings a “serious violation” of a UN resolution that ended the brutal 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon, which was triggered by a Hezbollah raid on the same border.

“A thorough investigation to establish the trajectories and points of origin of the identified tunnels is a complex task,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, the deputy head of UN peacekeeping operations.

“The tunnels are between 29 and 46 meters below ground, difficult to detect and in close proximity to areas sensitive to both parties,” he told the Security Council Wednesday.

Calling the tunnels “a serious violation of Resolution 1701” -- which ended the 2006 war -- Lacroix said they “do not appear thus far to have exit points on the Israeli side.”

He said two of the four tunnels that had been detected stretched south of the so-called Blue Line, the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israeli drawn up by the UN to verify Israel's withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday had urged the UN Security Council to condemn Hezbollah for digging cross-border “attack tunnels” and to demand Lebanon prevent such activity from its territory.

Stepping up its diplomatic campaign, Israel for the first time granted media access to one of the tunnels from south Lebanon.

Netanyahu’s remarks came ahead of a Security Council meeting to discuss what Israel says is a network of tunnels dug by the Iranian-backed militant group, of which at least four have been uncovered.

“I call on all the members of the Security Council to condemn Hezbollah’s wanton acts of aggression, to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, to press for heightened sanctions against Hezbollah,” Netanyahu told foreign media in the Israeli parliament.

Israel also wanted the Security Council “to demand that Lebanon stop allowing its territory to be allowed to be used as an act of aggression and its citizens to be used as pawns, to support Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian inspired and Iranian conducted aggression,” he said.

The army on Wednesday transported journalists in armored vehicles to film one of the tunnels just dozens of meters (yards) from the Lebanese border near the Israeli town of Metula.

The media trip came two weeks after the army announced the launch of an operation dubbed “Northern Shield” to destroy tunnels it said have been dug under the border by Hezbollah.

The tunnel shown to journalists appeared to extend around 40 meters inside Israeli territory. An exit point was not seen, only an access hole that had been dug above it.

Bulldozers were at work in the mud nearby close to the concrete barrier which Israel has built along the border. Concrete was being poured into several holes that had been excavated.

“We’ll stay here until we’ve finished. It took Hezbollah years to construct these tunnels. Our operation will set them back years,” a military official told journalists, asking not to be named.

Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah in 2006 that was halted by a UN-brokered truce.

Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

Netanyahu called the tunnels “an act of war” and accused the Lebanese government of not preventing their creation.

“The Lebanese government, which should be the first to challenge this and protest this, is doing nothing at best, and colluding at worst,” he said.

Netanyahu noted that UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, has confirmed the existence of four tunnels, stressing that it must be given swift and “unlimited access” to observe and document them.