Lebanon News

Naqoura’s tit-for-tat border action

Excavators operate in Misgav Am as seen from the southern village of Adaisseh, June 24, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT / RAS AL-NAQOURA: The Lebanese Army has begun preparing the ground to build a watchtower along the de facto border with Israel, weeks after Israeli forces constructed their own tower just meters away.

A newly poured concrete foundation can be seen close to the Blue Line demarcated by the United Nations between the two countries in Ras al-Naqoura. The border includes at least 13 points disputed by Lebanon. The Army has also removed barbed wire, detonated unexploded mines and used a bulldozer to create a dirt track from Army positions farther north to the construction site. The watchtower will be operational by the beginning of next month, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Army sources have denied that the move was in response to the construction of the Israeli tower - a metal structure supporting a small observation room overlooking Lebanese territory, installed earlier this month.

A Lebanese Army spokesperson told The Daily Star that the Army considers the new watchtower an “appropriate” surveillance measure, declining to give further justification for the construction.

Andrea Tenenti, the spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, also said that as far as he was aware, the new tower was not a response to the recently installed Israeli watchtower. UNIFIL was mandated in 1978 to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from south Lebanon and assist the Lebanese government in maintaining “effective authority” in the area.

Tenenti added that UNIFIL does not consider either tower a violation of the Blue Line, and that the Israelis were working on their technical fence elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Israeli bulldozers and diggers Monday were seen razing a forested area at one of the disputed border points close to Adaisseh, a border town in the district of Marjayoun. Security sources told The Daily Star that they suspect the work is in preparation to extend the Jewish state’s concrete wall.

However, Tenenti reminded both sides that plans for major work on the border should be submitted to UNIFIL ahead of time. “We had received information [about the Lebanese tower]. But it would have been important to have more time,” Tenenti told The Daily Star.

Tenenti said that while no advance notice is specified, an “unwritten agreement” between UNIFIL and the two countries required a warning of “several hours or days” ahead of major work on the border - including action such as fixing the fence there or installing watchtowers.

“Any activity carried out around the [Blue Line] needs to be planned and coordinated well in advance to prevent misunderstandings. This is something we have asked of both parties in several locations in order to get information about plans for works,” Tenenti said. When asked, at a later time, how much time UNIFIL had been given before work began on the tower, Tenenti said, “I don’t have that information.”

Responding to UNIFIL, the Army spokesperson told The Daily Star that the force “doesn’t need to be informed” about such projects, stressing his belief that UNIFIL’s main duty is to help the Army defend its border.

Both Lebanon and Israel have constructed several towers along the Blue Line. The new watchtower in Ras al-Naqoura would be the fourth on the Lebanese side of the border, the Army spokesperson said.

According to Tenenti, the construction of the previous towers had never been a cause for concern, because the army gave UNIFIL “adequate time and information.”

Locals consider the decision a justified and necessary tit-for-tat move.

“Israel is allowed to commit daily border incursions in our territorial waters and to cross the Blue Line, but we are not allowed to build a watchtower,” Mohammad Awada, a resident of Naqoura, told The Daily Star.

“We are behind the Lebanese Army, and you can only deal with the Israelis using force. The Army must hit back twice as hard.”

Fatima Sablini, another local, said, “Today we have a strong Army, a resistance and a people. UNIFIL must make Israel understand that Lebanon is now strong. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. They started it.”

The action comes on the heels of Israel’s work on the controversial border wall that crosses a number of disputed border points, whose construction has caused tensions with Lebanese people living near the border. Last month, local Lebanese residents were angered when Israeli forces brought down a poster hung by Amal Movement supporters while installing large towers on top of the wall.

Supporters of the movement - headed by Speaker Nabih Berri - gathered near the wall, and Israeli soldiers responded by deploying tear gas and sound bombs. Israeli media at the time claimed that two protesters had attempted to scale the wall and damage it, but The Daily Star was unable to independently confirm the claim.

Two of the demonstrators suffered tear gas-related injuries and were taken to the Marjayoun Governmental Hospital for treatment.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 25, 2019, on page 2.

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