'UN learned of Hezbollah armed cache months ago'
By Barak Ravid, Zvi Bar'el, Amos Harel and Jack Khoury Haaretz Last update -
UNIFIL learned a few months ago about the cache of Katyusha rockets that
exploded in the southern Lebanese village of Hirbet Salim last Tuesday, a
government source in Jerusalem said. The source said UNIFIL had precise
information about the cache and a number of other installations where
Hezbollah is storing rockets, but that UNIFIL had done nothing.
A discussion is scheduled in the UN Security Council for late August on
renewing UNIFIL's mandate in southern Lebanon; Israel hopes last week's
explosion will show the need to strengthen UNIFIL. Israel believes that
UNIFIL could sharpen its rules of engagement and act more forcefully with
the Lebanese army in southern Lebanese villages.
Government officials dealing with the Lebanon issue say UNIFIL soldiers
encounter armed Hezbollah fighters or are detained by them, but the
incidents do not appear in the reports submitted to the Security Council.
On Saturday it was reported that that area residents prevented UNIFIL
soldiers from searching an abandoned building near the building that blew up
last week, in which it is believed Hezbollah stored weapons, against UN
Security Council resolution 1701. A Lebanese security official said dozens
of civilians surrounded UNIFIL vehicles and blocked the road leading to the
building. The UNIFIL forces retreated with the assistance of the Lebanese
Earlier, Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech marking a year since the exchange of
Lebanese prisoners for the bodies of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev; the
Hezbollah leader said Israel still held one Lebanese prisoner and a number
of bodies, and that there is still uncertainty surrounding the disappearence
of four Iranian diplomats.
Nasrallah said he would continue working to bring back all Lebanese
prisoners and remains from Israel, implying that the Lebanese government is
not up to the task.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah "allowed" 12 Lebanese civilians to infiltrate a few
dozen meters into Israeli territory on Mount Dov on Saturday near Shaba
Farms, raising a Lebanese flag. They returned to Lebanon shortly thereafter.
The Israel Defense Forces said it did not respond because the civilians were
unarmed and not dangerous.
The border between Israel and Lebanon in the area is not fenced. IDF
lookouts said the group, which included children, also had a Hezbollah flag,
but did not raise it.
Israeli forces were placed on alert and the IDF informed UNIFIL command of
the matter, asking them to intervene. By the time the UNIFIL force went to
the site, the group was on its way back to Lebanese territory.
Security officials say the civilian incursion was intended to draw attention
away from the explosion, which embarrassed Hezbollah, as it revealed the
presence of weapons in southern Lebanon.
A senior defense official told Haaretz that he believed Hezbollah does not
want to escalate the situation in the north, but that the group was seeking
to attack Israeli targets abroad.
The infiltration of civilians onto Mount Dov is also apparently connected to
Saudi and American pressure on Syria to demarcate its border with Lebanon to
bring about an Israeli withdrawal from Shaba Farms. Such an Israeli
withdrawal would neutralize Hezbollah's justification to continue to remain
an armed group to liberate occupied Lebanese territory. Nasrallah is not
part of these diplomatic efforts and views them as an Israel-American-Saudi
Hezbollah says the government and foreign interests are not the "owners" of
the Shaba Farms "project," and if anyone is to make political hay from an
Israeli withdrawal, it must be Hezbollah.