BEIRUT - Lebanon’s president said Tuesday that Israel’s operation to destroy what it says is a series of cross-border attack tunnels built by the militant Hezbollah group won’t endanger the calm along the frontier, adding that his country takes the issue seriously.
Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said that Lebanon is prepared to address the issue after assessing a full report on the situation.
Aoun said the United States has informed Lebanon that Israel has “no aggressive intentions,” adding that his country harbored none either.
“We are ready to remove the causes of the disagreements, but after we get the full report and decide what are the issues we need to handle,” Aoun said.
Israel has shown no evidence to back up its charge that Hezbollah built tunnels for an attack inside Israel, Lebanon's influential speaker of parliament said Wednesday.
Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, said Israel "did not present any information" at its weekly meeting with Lebanese military officials and UN peacekeepers.
The peacekeepers said all sides agreed that a UN team would go to Israel Thursday to "ascertain the facts."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telephoned Secretary-General Antonio Guterres Wednesday, saying he expects the U.N.
Israel launched an operation to destroy a series of tunnels last week, showing one to U.N. peacekeepers and calling it a violation of the cease-fire that ended the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
The peacekeeping force, or UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of two tunnels. On Tuesday, the mission’s head, Maj. Stefano Del Col, said he met with Aoun and Lebanon’s parliament speaker and informed them that UNIFIL experts have inspected two tunnels near Metulla, along the border north of Israel.
“This is a serious matter and UNIFIL is working in close coordination with the parties both at the technical level as well as at the leadership level to ensure that all related facts are objectively determined and diligently addressed in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701,” Del Col said in a statement.
He said the inspection of tunnels is a “work in progress,” vowing that UNIFIL will “make every effort to maintain clear and credible channels of communication with both sides so that there is no room for misunderstanding on this sensitive matter.”
Aoun spoke alongside Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who plans to visit 180 Austrian peacekeepers in southern Lebanon the following day.
Van der Bellen said he calls on the two sides “to keep calm.”
“You are in a region that ... will be for the next years, decades, always a difficult region as long as we have no real peace between Israel and its neighbors,” Van der Bellen said. “It’s in the interest of all countries of the region to keep the borders as they are, for economic reasons, for social reasons, and for development reasons. I think Israel is no exception to that.”