UNIFIL peacekeepers launch investigation into Lebanon border incident

IDF maintains armed Hezbollah cell entered Israeli territory to carry out attack on Monday; terror group denies any such operation

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

UNIFIL soldiers inspect an impact site caused by IDF munitions during a failed attack on the border from Lebanon, on July 29, 2020. (UNIFIL)
UNIFIL soldiers inspect an impact site caused by IDF munitions during a failed attack on the border from Lebanon, on July 29, 2020. (UNIFIL)

The United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL on Wednesday launched an investigation into a series of incidents along the Israel-Lebanon border in recent days, notably on Monday night, when Israel says it thwarted an attempted attack by the Hezbollah terror group.

“Following recent incidents across the Blue Line, UNIFIL has launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances,” the organization said, referring to the unofficial but internationally recognized border between Israel and Lebanon, marked by blue posts.

The Israel-Lebanon border has seen rising tensions after Hezbollah accused Israel of killing one of its fighters in an airstrike on Damascus International Airport, a site reportedly being used by Iran to store weapons.

The past two days have seen two incidents along the border — according to Israel, an attempted attack on Monday afternoon and suspects approaching the security fence on Tuesday night.

UNIFIL soldiers inspect the remains of a fire caused by IDF munitions during a failed attack on the border from Lebanon, on July 29, 2020. (UNIFIL)

UNIFIL, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which is tasked with enforcing UN Resolution 1701 that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, said it was conducting its investigation on both sides of the border.

A spokesperson for the organization said he could not comment on what evidence had been collected. Photographs of the investigation showed UNIFIL soldiers visiting the remains of a fire that was apparently caused by IDF munitions and other impact sites, as well as the alleged route used by the Hezbollah members to enter Israeli territory.

UNIFIL soldiers inspect the Israel-Lebanon border on July 29, 2020. (UNIFIL)

In a statement, UNIFIL said its commander, Gen. Stefano Del Col of Italy, was working with both sides to “contain the situation, decrease tension and preserve cessation of hostilities.”

According to the IDF, on Monday afternoon, a group of at least three armed Hezbollah members entered the Israeli-controlled territory of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms.

According to the IDF’s initial investigation of the incident, the men were spotted by a soldier operating a security camera just before they entered the region through a stretch along the Blue Line where there was no security fence — and walked on foot through rocky, overgrown terrain toward the IDF’s Gladiola outpost. The men were within 200 to 300 meters of the position before Israeli troops opened fire at them, forcing them back into Lebanon.

The IDF also fired a number of artillery shells toward Lebanon, mostly to create a smoke screen to prevent any other attacks. One such shell, a dud, struck a Lebanese home, causing damage but no injuries.

The Israeli military said it believed the Hezbollah men were planning some kind of attack, entering the area armed with at least rifles, but did not know definitively what they planned to do. The IDF has dismissed the possibility that they intended to fire an anti-tank guided missile at Israeli troops or vehicles as they did not seem to have one. Instead, the military suspects the men were planning to either carry out a sniper attack on Israeli troops, attempt to break into the Gladiola outpost or plant an improvised explosive device along the main road on Mount Dov.

A picture taken from the Israeli side of the Blue Line that separates Israel and Lebanon shows smoke billowing above Mount Dov on the Israeli-Lebanese border, after reports of clashes between the IDF and Hezbollah in the area, on July 27, 2020. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

Hezbollah denied carrying out an attack on Monday night, saying the IDF’s claims were “absolutely false.”

In a statement, it asserted that “these announcements are absolutely false attempts to generate illusory and fake victories.”

On Tuesday night, the Israeli military said it detected suspects near the security fence separating Israel and Lebanon. IDF troops searched the area to determine if anyone had infiltrated into Israeli territory, but determined that there had been no border breach.

In the past, Hezbollah has retaliated for losses of its fighters in Syria with attacks on Israel. This was the case in September, when the terror group fired three anti-tank guided missiles at Israeli military targets along the Lebanese border, narrowly missing an IDF armored ambulance with five soldiers inside, after the IDF killed two of its fighters in Syria the month before.

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