Hezbollah is storing arms for use against Israel in the homes of Lebanese civilians who live near the Israeli border, and Israel will respond with great force if those missiles and rockets are actually fired at Israel, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday.
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It is important that both the Lebanese government and residents of southern Lebanon be aware of this, he added.
Lieberman also told the visiting secretary-general that Iran is working to set up factories to manufacture precision weapons within Lebanon. This is intolerable for Israel, which is determined to prevent any threat to its security, he said.
Lieberman accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of making the situation in Gaza worse, charging that Abbas’ goal is to spark another Hamas-Israel war. Hamas is equally to blame for Gaza’s woes, Lieberman added, since it invests most of its money in digging tunnels and manufacturing or smuggling arms rather than improving life for its residents Gaza.
Lieberman added that Hamas still holds both Israeli civilians and the bodies of two fallen soldiers in the Gaza Strip, but refuses to return them or even provide any information about them. It also refuses to allow the Red Cross to visit the captives. Aside from being cruel, this is a violation of international law, he said, and he expects the UN to speak out on this issue and pressure Hamas to return the missing and fallen Israelis.
Guterres also met with families of the fallen soldiers and captive civilians. The parents of soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed all urged him to get personally involved in securing their return to Israel.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett also commented on the issue, calling for harsher conditions for Palestinian terrorists serving time in Israeli jails. "We are dealing not only with [negotiating for] the release of Israeli soldiers, but also preventing the next kidnapping. We have to levy the price of an attack against terrorists in prison by refusing to release corpses and by using aggressive military operations. We must not capitulate to Hamas but instead intensify our work against them, so that it's not worth it for them to hold our soldiers captive."
Guterres also met with three senior opposition politicians – Labor Party leader and chairman of the opposition Avi Gabbay, former Labor leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnuah party chairwoman Tzipi Livni. Like Lieberman, Herzog demanded that the UN take aggressive steps to force Hamas to return the fallen soldiers and captive civilians.
Gabbay demanded that Guterres revamp UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon, to make it more effective. To date, UNIFIL has simply ignored Hezbollah’s illegal deployment of weapons in southern Lebanon, even though this violates the UN’s own resolutions, he said.
Livni asked Guterres to speak out strongly against anti-Semitism and to end discrimination against Israel in UN institutions. She stressed that the demand for an end to this discrimination unites both coalition and opposition parties.
Finally, Guterres met with the coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories, Maj. Genl. Yoav Mordechai, who complained about Hamas’ efforts to divert humanitarian aid to Gaza for use in anti-Israel terror. The fact that Hamas continues to hold Israeli civilians and fallen soldiers also makes it hard for Israel to take more expansive steps to aid Gaza’s civilian population, Mordechai noted.
Aside from diverting civilian aid, Mordechai continued, Hamas also collects about 100 million shekels ($28 million) every month in taxes from Gaza residents. The latter are paying the price not just of Hamas’ anti-Israel terror, but also of the internal Palestinian feud between Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party, he said.
Finally, Mordechai detailed Israel’s efforts to help Syrian civilians living near the Israeli border, as well as various projects COGAT is working on to improve life in the West Bank. Guterres responded that cooperation between the UN and Israel on such issues is important and effective