WAZZANI, Lebanon: The long-awaited cleanup of the Hasbani River in south Lebanon began Thursday after Israel went back on its initial opposition to the process.
A bulldozer belonging to U.N. peacekeepers began removing rocks that were blocking part of the channel after they were washed downstream by winter rains.
Israel initially rejected Lebanon’s requests to clean up the river, a demand by the owners of parks, restaurants and resorts that are scattered along Hasbani’s western bank.
The cleanup, which was supervised by the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon and the Army, is expected to last three days.
It was carried out by a team from the engineering corps of UNIFIL’s Cambodian contingent.
The operation was hailed as a victory for Lebanon.
“The insistence of Speaker [Nabih Berri] and the Lebanese Army have led to the cleanup,” said Qassem Hashem, an MP from Berri’s bloc, who oversaw Thursday’s operation. “Lebanese perseverance and the Lebanese national will have prevailed.”
Lebanon has the right to exploit every inch of the southern border, Hashem said, quoting Berri.
The site of the cleanup lies by the tourist village of Hosn al-Wazzani in the south and across from the Israeli-occupied village of Ghajar.
The Blue Line, which the U.N. drew to indicate Israel’s line of withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, passes through the middle of the Hasbani River in the area.
Israel has been prohibiting the owners of parks, restaurants and resorts that are scattered along the river’s western bank from accessing the eastern side.
Owners of the tourist sites asked to clear rocks washed down the river by the winter rains that were blocking part of the channel. But the work requires access to both sides of the river, and the Israelis had long rejected Lebanon’s requests to complete the cleanup.
But an agreement was concluded Wednesday in a periodic review meeting between Lebanese and Israeli officers in the U.N. station in Ras Naqoura that also included UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen Paolo Serra.
The agreement allows UNIFIL to carry out the river cleanup for a distance of 120m in the dispute area.
The cleanup was attended by the commander of the Lebanese Army’s ninth battalion, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Badran, UNIFIL officers and international cease-fire observers.
UNIFIL officers stationed near the occupied village of Ghajar also observed the cleanup, while Israeli military patrols were absent from the scene.
The rest of the cleanup was delayed until Friday as a result of intense rains that swept Lebanon Thursday. Lebanese bulldozers will be used in the process.