Israel: UN learned of Hezbollah arms cache months ago
Israeli officials: UNIFIL had precise intelligence on south Lebanon depot, neglect dealing with militants.
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 army.
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 "plot."
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.
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