Lebanon News

Sleiman says Israeli overflights bid to destabilize Lebanon

UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol the area in the southern border town of Naqoura, Thursday, May 2, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: President Michel Sleiman condemned Friday recent Israeli violations of Lebanese sovereignty, calling them a continuation of the Jewish state’s “policy of intimidation” and a bid to destabilize the country.

Israel has intensified the rate of its overflights in Lebanese airspace over the past several days, a development security sources attribute to the monitoring of cross-border weapons transfers with Syria.

In contrast to the routine near-daily flight patterns by Israeli jets, unusual flight patterns were recorded in the last 48 hours by the Lebanese Army.

Several mock attacks were also carried out by the Israeli air force in the southern regions of Bint Jbeil and Nabatieh. While such flights have long been a daily affair, the recent low altitude flights have alarmed civilians and officials alike.

Eight Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace in a span of 14 hours, flying over large swaths of the country, the Lebanese Army said.

“At 7:10 p.m. Thursday, two Israeli warplanes violated Lebanese airspace entering above the Mediterranean sea west of Sidon and flying over all Lebanese areas as they conducted aerial maneuvers,” the army statement said.

They left Lebanon’s airspace approximately four hours later above Naqoura.

According to the Army, another pair of fighter jets entered Lebanese airspace above the sea west of Jounieh in Kesrouan and conducted aerial maneuvers in the area.

“After roaming throughout the country, the two jets returned to Israel above the southern village of Alma Shaab,” the Army statement added.

When those two planes returned to Israel, two other jets entered Lebanese airspace around 12:35 a.m. Friday.

The Army also said the fighter jets remained in Lebanon’s skies for almost three hours before leaving the country’s airspace sometime after 3:15 a.m.

“At 6 a.m. two more warplanes violated Lebanon’s airspace from above the sea near Beirut and flew over all Lebanese regions and left at 8:50 a.m. [Friday] above the southern village of Rmeish,” the Army said.

A security source with good knowledge of Hezbollah’s activities and UNIFIL peacekeepers in the south said that the uptick in overflights was due to the unstable situation on the Lebanese-Syrian border and the fear of smuggling of chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon.

“Israel is closely monitoring the Lebanese-Syrian border to stop any big arms shipment and possible smuggling of chemical weapons from Syria,” a security source told The Daily Star.

The surge in overflights since January comes amid a number of warnings made by Israeli officials that the embattled Syrian regime of President Bashar Assad might transfer its chemical weapons stockpile and big arms to its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

A UNIFIL spokesperson said the peacekeeping force was unable to comment on the developments.

According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Jewish state’s military informed UNIFIL about the recent aerial maneuvers and they in turn had informed the Lebanese authorities.

The Lebanese security source said the Israeli reconnaissance jets were also monitoring the activities of extremist Islamist groups operating on either side of the Lebanese-Syrian border. “Israel is concerned about the activities of groups such as Nusra Front, which have started to operate in Lebanon,” the source said.

Meanwhile, an Israeli national is still being interrogated by the Army in the city of Tyre two days after he crossed into Lebanon from Israel. Officials at the International Committee of the Red Cross said they were waiting for an indication from the Army to begin the repatriation process for the 34-year-old Israeli, identified as Simon Saadati. Israeli media reports maintain that Saadati is mentally unstable.

Another Israeli, who crossed into Lebanon in 2011, was repatriated six months after his arrest in Naqoura. Ahmad Jamal Daif told authorities he had drifted into Lebanese waters while diving near his restaurant in the Israeli city of Netanya.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 04, 2013, on page 2.




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