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Lebanon News

Southerners: Israel building wall out of fear

  • Halawi stands in the Iranian-funded Kfar Kila garden which overlooks the border with Israel. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Zaatari)

  • Lebanese troops and UNIFIL peacekeepers watch the border with Israel. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Zaatari)

KFAR KILA, Lebanon: Residents of south Lebanon were dismissive of reports that Israel plans to build a 1-kilometer security wall on the border between its Metula settlement and Lebanon’s Kfar Kila village, saying that the plan only reflects Israel’s “fear.”

Uday Sheet, who was peddling coffee to passers-by Tuesday, said that Israel’s fear of southerners was driving it to build a wall.

“It is a wall of fear, not only fear of the resistance, but of the farmer, the pedestrian and the resident of south Lebanon. It shows how cowardly the Israeli is,” the Kfar Kila resident said.

Sheet said that no matter how long the wall would be, it would not provide protection for Israel.

Israeli military sources told AFP Tuesday that Israel was liaising with Lebanese and U.N. officials on the idea of building an anti-sniper wall along the border between the Israeli settlement of Metula and the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila.

The sources said that it would be constructed to protect newly built apartments in the settlement from sniper fire, but explained that any final decision on the plan would require coordination with Lebanese officials.

A tripartite committee of Israeli, Lebanese and UNIFIL officers meets regularly to discuss border issues.

But when contacted by The Daily Star, a Lebanese Army spokesperson said the Lebanese Army had no direct means of verifying the reports and said there were no visible signs of activity to suggest that the construction of a wall had started.

The source confirmed that the Lebanese military had heard the reports of the barrier, which would be the first of its kind on Lebanon’s borders.

U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s summer 2006 war against Lebanon, established a buffer zone around the Blue Line where only UNIFIL and Lebanese Army troops are permitted.

But the Israeli sources said that Metulla farmers have come under sniper fire in the past and frequently have stones hurled at them from the Lebanese side.

The Fatima Gate stands on the Lebanese side of the border fence separating Metula from Kfar Kila.

The gate has been the scene of festivals and celebrations during the five years following Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon during which Lebanese residents have sometimes thrown stones at Israeli patrols.

During a tour Tuesday of Sector East, the easternmost third of south Lebanon, The Daily Star found the atmosphere was calm. Lebanese and UNIFIL soldiers were patrolling the border in the sector, which stretches from Shabaa to the Abbad Israeli headquarters.

Peacekeeping vehicles were also seen along the border, as farmers and shepherds went about their daily shores.

Most expressed indifference to news of the planned wall, including Ali Halawi, who lives in Kfar Kila.

“We have nothing to do with what they are doing. They are surrounding themselves with barbed wires and fortifications,” he said. “They are cowards.”

The white haired-man, who leaned on a stick, praised Iran for planting a garden in Kfar Kila.

“It [Iran] made the area more beautiful, opened new roads and lit streets. Because of it we remain here steadfastly,” he added.

Members of the Israeli army were seen carrying out construction around two months ago which witnesses in the area said could have been preliminary steps to building a wall.

In mid-November, the Israeli army was seen digging dozens of ditches along the technical fence, stretching from areas facing Kfar Kila and Adaisseh border villages, with roughly 100 meters between each of the ditches.

According to Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper, the wall would measure five meters high and feature electronic detection devices. The paper reported that the project is expected to begin within weeks.

Children from the village of Houla voiced their anger at the Israeli plan.

“We always throw stones when we see an Israeli patrol. I can’t bear seeing them,” said Mustafa Wehbe. “But this [wall] will not prevent us from [throwing] stones,” he added.

“We used to antagonize them and we will continue to throw stones at them. Everything has a solution and we will come up with new tactics,” said another boy.

Sami Rammal, from the village of Adaisseh, said he was not concerned with the prospect of a wall in the area.

“This wall has nothing to do with us. It is to protect them [Israelis],” he said.

“When Israel wants to enter Lebanon, it will not be prevented by a wall,” Rammal added.

Husniyya Alayyan, from the southern village of Khiyam, said she didn’t feel threatened by the plans either.

“We are not afraid of anyone. Let the Zionist entity do whatever it wants,” she said. “We are not concerned if they build or destroy a wall. We are interested in protecting our land and in remaining here, putting [our land] under the protection of the Lebanese Army and the resistance and in the protection of [Hezbollah Secretary-General] Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.”

According to Alayyan, “the days when Israel used to wreak havoc in Lebanon are over.”

Commenting on the matter, UNIFIL spokesperson Neeraj Singh said the international peacekeepers have been engaged with both Lebanon and Israel to “further improve security arrangements in the Kfar Kila area.”

“Given the sensitivity of the area, we consider it imperative to reach agreed solutions with both the sides on practical measures to ease sporadic tensions, minimize the scope for any possible misunderstandings and build confidence among the parties,” Singh told The Daily Star in an email.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak Monday told the Knesset that Israel should be always be prepared for any challenges on its northern and southern borders, Israel’s army reported on its website.

There have been several security incidents on the Lebanese-Israeli border in recent months.

In late November, rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel with one hitting the western Galilee region. The Israeli army retaliated, firing six artillery shells.

In early December, a woman was wounded in south Lebanon by a Katyusha rocket that was fired from Lebanon, apparently aimed at Israel. – With AFP, and additional reporting by Dana Khraiche

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 04, 2012, on page 3.

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