Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)

Israeli leader calls on UN to condemn Hezbollah over tunnels

December 19, 2018 - 8:16 am

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister Wednesday called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn "wanton acts of aggression" by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, designate it a terrorist organization and heighten sanctions on it over attack tunnels it has dug into Israel.

Benjamin Netanyahu said the council should "stand up for the truth" when it meets to discuss the tunnels Israel recently uncovered on the Lebanon border during "Operation Northern Shield." The Israeli military is engaged in the open-ended operation to identify and destroy the cross-border passageways, of which four have already been uncovered. Israel says they were built by Hezbollah militants to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians and try to conquer its northern tip.

"This is not merely an act of aggression. This is an act of war," Netanyahu said. "The people of Lebanon have to understand that Hezbollah is putting them in jeopardy and we expect Lebanon to take action against this."

Hezbollah, which has used such tunnels inside Lebanon before, has yet to comment.

Israel has long called for a crackdown on the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a heavily armed mini-army with an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly all of Israel. The two sides are bitter enemies and fought an inconclusive monthlong war in 2006. In recent years, Hezbollah has been bogged down in fighting on behalf of Bashar Assad's regime in Syria. But with that civil war winding down, Israeli security officials fear it is now refocusing its attention on Israel.

Netanyahu said Hezbollah was currently using every third house in villages in southern Lebanon for its aggression. He called their activity a "double war crime" since it threatened to harm Israeli civilians and put Lebanese civilians in danger as well.

Netanyahu is demanding the U.N.'s peacekeeping force in Lebanon fulfil its mandate and take action against Hezbollah's blatant violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. The council convenes later Wednesday at Israel's request.

Though it appeared the Lebanese army was unaware of the Hezbollah tunnel network before Israel discovered it, Netanyahu said they know about it now and were required to neutralize it for their own country's sake. Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, which enjoys significant political power in Lebanon.

"The fact that the Lebanese army is doing nothing means that they are either unable or unwilling or both to do anything about this. But it doesn't absolve Lebanon's culpability," he said. "My message is: Hezbollah is putting you in great jeopardy. You should act in your own defense and roll them back. Fight Hezbollah for the future of Lebanon."

Lebanon's Foreign Ministry said it was concerned about the U.N. report about the tunnels crossing the border into Israel in violation of the 2006 cease-fire agreement. It said the Lebanese army has been asked to "intensify its activities" along the border. It also said the council should hold Israel accountable for its violations of Lebanon's air, land and sea space.


Associated Press writer Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed.

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