UN peacekeepers halt IDF engineering work after claim excavator crossed into Lebanon

Military excavator’s bucket apparently crosses Blue Line border demarcation; armed Lebanese troops camp out overnight to prevent Israel from renewing activity

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

An Israeli soldier and UNIFIL troops inspect an IDF excavator working on the border with Lebanon, January 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli soldier and UNIFIL troops inspect an IDF excavator working on the border with Lebanon, January 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

United Nation peacekeepers on the Lebanese border briefly halted Israeli military engineering work on both Wednesday and Thursday, amid a tense standoff after an excavator possibly crossed the demarcation line between the two countries.

Footage from both days showed the excavator’s bucket over the border fence — which is built entirely in Israeli territory — between Israel and Lebanon.

The bucket possibly crossed the so-called Blue Line by several centimeters, causing troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon to step in and stop the work after complaints by the Lebanese Army.

The Blue Line is marked with blue barrels along the border and is several meters from the Israeli fence in some areas.

Armed Lebanese soldiers, some with RPGs, were seen in the area of the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces said the incident occurred during “routine engineering activity” near the northern town of Metula.

“The engineering activity [on Wednesday] was paused for a short period, and later on continued in coordination with UNIFIL personnel in the area,” the military said.

Israeli soldiers, Lebanese soldiers, and UNIFIL troops inspect IDF engineering work on the border between Israel and Lebanon, January 19, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The standoff had been ongoing for more than a day until it was apparently fully resolved.

Armed Lebanese soldiers camped out overnight to prevent Israel from resuming the work and ostensibly breaching the border.

“Today, the IDF continued with its engineering activities in the area of Metula in coordination with UNIFIL,” the military said Thursday, after the works had been briefly stopped again following renewed complaints.

Military engineering work continued in other areas along the border.

UNIFIL troops have broken up several such standoffs between the IDF and the Lebanese Army in recent years.

The peacekeeping force has been in Lebanon since 1978. Composed of nearly 10,000 soldiers, it is deployed in the south of the country — a stronghold of the powerful Shiite terror group Hezbollah — to maintain a barrier with Israel, as the two countries technically remain at war.

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