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US Delegation in Beirut to Contain ‘Tunnels Crisis’

US Delegation in Beirut to Contain ‘Tunnels Crisis’

Friday, 11 January, 2019 - 06:45
Lebanese President Michel Aoun chairs Thursday the session of the Higher Defense Council at Baabda palace/NNA
Beirut - Nazeer Rida
US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale is expected to visit Beirut on Sunday to express Washington’s support for the Lebanese State and security institutions, and to prevent an escalation on the southern border following a crisis between Lebanon and Tel Aviv over Hezbollah cross-border tunnels.

Hale is also expected to push Beirut to stick to its dissociation policy, which means steering clear of regional conflicts.

Unofficial Lebanese sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Hale would be accompanied by a high-ranking diplomatic delegation. “In the coming days, we expect several protocol visits to assess the issue of tunnels and hold talks on Hezbollah,” the sources said.

Ahead of Hale’s two-day visit, Israel on Thursday resumed the erection of earth mounds behind the technical wire off Wazzani parks.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that an Israeli Merkava tank was positioned behind a dirt cover in the settlement of Meskaf Aami while the Israeli forces resumed digging and installing concrete blocks along the technical fence on the outskirts of Adaisseh village in Marjayoun.

“The enemy deployed a number of soldiers while the Lebanese army patrolled the area along with peacekeeping forces,” an NNA correspondent said.

The Higher Defense Council, chaired by President Michel Aoun, held an emergency meeting at Baabda palace to discuss the Israeli violations and tension in the South.

Caretaker Interior Minister Nohad al-Mashnouq said the Council was meeting to discuss the latest Israeli violations.

Loqman Slim, a political activist and co-director at UMAM Documentation & Research, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Lebanon failed to deal seriously with what happened at the border after the discovery of tunnels, which crossed the Blue Line.”

“Instead, Lebanon kept following a denial policy … despite UNIFIL’s confirmation of the existence of such tunnels,” he said.

The Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Major General Stefano Del Col, chaired the first regular Tripartite meeting of 2019 at the UN position in Ras al-Naqoura with a focus on discussions regarding tunnels and ongoing engineering works near the Blue Line, a UNIFIL statement said.

"Any activity close to the Blue Line should be predictable, with sufficient prior notification to allow UNIFIL to duly inform the other party and so that coordinated security arrangements could be put in place to prevent incidents or violations,” Del Col said.

He noted that the parties were updated about UNIFIL's independent investigation that had confirmed the existence of four tunnels, of which two crossed the Blue Line in violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.

“UNIFIL remains closely engaged with both sides in this regard as the operations continue,” the commander said.

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