Lebanon’s Aoun says Israeli operation poses no risk to peace

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BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday he saw no risk to peace from Israel’s military operation against tunnels it says were dug into Israeli territory by Hezbollah.

Israel says Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful armed group, dug the tunnels under the border with the aim of launching attacks into Israeli territory with backing from its regional sponsor Iran. Hezbollah has yet to comment.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand together as seen from Meis al-Jabal village in south Lebanon, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli soldier gestures as he is seen from Meis al-Jabal village in south Lebanon, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
FILE PHOTO: A man holds a Hezbollah flag at Meis al-Jabal village in south Lebanon, December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Lebanese general security members check luggage of Syrian refugees returning to Syria, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2018. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

“We certainly took this issue seriously – the presence of tunnels at the border – and Israel informed us via the United States that it does not have aggressive intentions and it will continue to work on its (territory),” Aoun said.

“We also do not have aggressive intentions, and so there is no danger to peace in this (Israeli) operation…We are ready to remove the causes of the dispute, but after we obtain a final report and we set out the matters that need to be dealt with,” he told a news conference alongside his visiting Austrian counterpart.

The head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, said a UNIFIL technical team had verified the existence of a second tunnel. The peacekeepers last week confirmed the presence of one near the Israeli town of Metulla.

Major General Stefano Del Col, in a statement issued after meetings with Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, said the matter was “serious”.

UNIFIL was making “every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding on this sensitive matter”.

Israel’s military said it had discovered a third tunnel from Lebanon into Israel on Tuesday.

“The attack tunnel is under the IDF’s control and does not pose an imminent threat,” it said in a statement, adding that Israel held the Lebanese government accountable for “another blatant breach” of a U.N. resolution that ended a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, and “of Israeli sovereignty”.

Israel has said it is up to UNIFIL to deal with the tunnels on the Lebanese side of the border.

Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said in a separate statement that Lebanon was committed to the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701 which ended the last war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Israel and Hezbollah have avoided major conflict across the Lebanese-Israeli border since 2006, though Israel has mounted attacks in Syria targeting what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to the group.

Israel says the tunnels operation is confined to Israeli territory.

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