Naharnet

UNIFIL Chief Inspects Blue Line as Israel Embarks on Border Wall Construction

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Michael Beary on Thursday inspected the Blue Line area, south of al-Naqoura, where Israel has started to build a controversial separation border wall that Lebanon says would encroach on its territory.

Israel has started constructing the wall along its border with Lebanon on Wednesday. Lebanon's Higher Defense Council met afterward and instructed the Lebanese Armed Forces to confront any Israeli territorial or maritime border violations.

Lebanon has pledged a diplomatic push to prevent construction of the wall between the two countries as tensions mount over off-shore exploration for oil and gas.

President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and parliament speaker Nabih Berri pledged to "pursue efforts to mobilize at the regional and international level to block building of the wall by Israel.”

Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, confirmed the beginning of works in Naqoura area and said the force is "fully engaged with both parties in order to find common solutions."

"Any work that is conducted along the Blue Line should be predictable and also coordinated with UNIFIL in order to prevent misunderstanding and decrease tension," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the UNIFIL base in Naqoura.

Lebanese and Israeli military officials had on Monday attended regular U.N.-sponsored talks on the border. Tenenti said both parties demonstrated their commitment to preserve stability.

Lebanon says part of the wall follows the UN-demarcated "Blue Line" that was drawn up after Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, and insists some sections will cut into its territory.

Israel has dismissed these claims and said Tuesday that "construction continues as usual".

The renewed focus on the wall comes as the two sides spar over Lebanon's plans to explore for oil and gas off shore in waters eyed by both sides.

Beirut is set to sign contracts with a consortium including French firm Total, Italian company ENI and Russia's Novatek to begin looking for energy deposits off its Mediterranean coast in 2019.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month said awarding such bids amounted to "provocative behavior" by Lebanon's government.

The statement from Lebanon's presidency denounced the Israeli "allegations" and warned against attempts to "usurp" its resources.

Despite the hostility between the two countries, Israeli and Lebanese military officials meet regularly under the auspices of the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to discuss border issues.

On Monday a meeting was held and discussions focused on "engineering works south of the Blue Line," UNIFIL said in a statement.

"Any activity close to the Blue Line should be predictable, with sufficient prior notification to allow for coordination by the parties, so as to avoid misunderstandings and prevent incidents," it added.

Source: Naharnet, Agence France Presse, Associated Press


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