Lebanon labels Israeli border wall an 'aggression'
By BASSAM HATOUM
Feb. 07, 2018
NAQOURA, Lebanon (AP) — Lebanon's top security body on Wednesday instructed the military to confront Israel if it goes ahead with plans to build a cement border wall along the country's boundary, labeling it as an "aggression" against its sovereignty.
The statement by the Higher Defense Council did not elaborate but it comes amid escalating tensions between the two neighbors, who are technically at war. At the heart of the current tensions is a new oil and gas exploration deal on the countries' maritime borders. Israel contests Lebanon's rights to one area.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is protesting a controversial wall that Israel is planning to build along their shared border, which Lebanon says would encroach on its territory.
"This wall, if it is built, will be considered an aggression against Lebanon," the statement said. "The Higher Defense Council has given instructions to confront this aggression to prevent Israel from building this so-called wall barrier on Lebanese territory," it added.
Israel's military said all work was "being carried out in sovereign Israeli territory." Parts of the militarized border have been fenced off for years.
Andrea Tenenti, spokesperson for the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon known as UNIFIL, said the force is "fully engaged with both parties in order to find common solutions."
"Any work that is conducted along the Blue Line should be predictable and also coordinated with UNIFIL in order to prevent misunderstanding and decrease tension," he told The Associated Press in an interview at the UNIFIL base in the town of Naqoura, in southern Lebanon on Wednesday.
Lebanese and Israeli military officials met Monday to discuss the issues in regular U.N.-sponsored talks. Tenenti said both parties demonstrated their commitment to preserve stability.
Israel has in recent days escalated its threats against Lebanon over Lebanon's invitation for offshore gas exploration bids on the countries' maritime border.
Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman described Lebanon's exploration tender as "very provocative" and suggested that Lebanon had put out invitations for bids from international groups for a gas field "which is by all accounts ours."
His comments drew sharp condemnation from the militant Hezbollah group and Lebanese officials, including Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Western ally, who described Lieberman's comments as a "blatant provocation that Lebanon rejects."
Israel and Hezbollah fought a devastating month-long war in 2006.
Associated Press writer Ian Deitch in Jerusalem contributed to this report.