Israel, Lebanon talking ‘nearly every day’ in bid to avoid conflict
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Israel, Lebanon talking ‘nearly every day’ in bid to avoid conflict

UNIFIL spokesperson says there is 'no appetite for instability or for war' from either side, after heightened tensions over border wall, offshore gas fields

The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)
The border fence between Israel and Lebanon with the southern Lebanese village of Blida in the background, from the Israeli kibbutz of Yiftah, on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jalaa Marey)

Israeli and Lebanese officials have been “holding talks nearly every day” over Lebanese complaints about a barrier Israel is erecting along the border between the two countries, a UN spokesperson was quoted on Thursday as saying.

“There is a full engagement from all the sides and there have been meetings almost on a daily basis. The dialogue is open. No one has ever walked out from these meetings,” Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for UNIFIL, the UN force in south Lebanon charged with keeping the peace, told Reuters.

The dispute is centered around a border wall the IDF is constructing along the boundary between the two countries, contested rights to offshore natural gas exploration, and Israeli warnings that Iran — through its proxy in Lebanon, Hezbollah — is turning the country into a forward base to manufacture rockets and attack the Jewish state.

“There is a will to keep this dialogue open,” Tenenti was quoted as saying. “I think now, besides the heightened rhetoric, the reality on the ground is different and there is no appetite for instability or for war.”

“The last 12 years have seen the quietest period the south of Lebanon has witnessed in over 30 years. But it is important to keep in mind that things along the Blue Line are in general very sensitive. Anything could, if it is not addressed immediately, potentially spark into something bigger and increase tension.”

A Spanish UNIFIL peacekeeper drives an armored vehicle in the Lebanese town of Adaisseh, near the border with Israel, on January 19, 2015. (AFP/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Last month, Lebanese military officials told their Israeli counterparts during face-to-face talks that the border wall violates Lebanon’s sovereign territory.

The Lebanese army commander even vowed to “confront any Israeli aggression, whatever that costs,” Reuters reported at the time.

“I affirm again our categorical rejection of the Israeli enemy infringing on Lebanon’s sovereignty and its sacred right to exploit all its economic resources,” General Joseph Aoun said.

Israel has been building the obstacle — made up of a collection of berms, cliffs, and concrete barriers — for a long time, but it has only now angered Beirut.

Hezbollah, a powerful terror group considered to have more military clout than the Lebanese army itself, threatened to open fire on IDF soldiers building the barrier, Israel’s Hadashot TV news reported in February.

The message was delivered to Jerusalem via UNIFIL, the report said. The UN force, fearing a possible escalation, passed the message on to the US and French ambassadors, who updated the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on the matter.

The Israeli government, unimpressed, responded with a threatening message of its own, the report said. Israel said it was acting in its own sovereign territory in accordance with the UN Security Council resolution adopted after Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

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