UN says ‘general calm’ restored along Israel-Lebanon border as tensions linger
The United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon said “general calm” had been restored on the volatile border after a rare burst of fighting between Israel and Hezbollah sparked fears of an escalation and prompted concern from world powers.
In a statement, the head of the UN’s Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said the “serious incident” that violated the resolution ending the 2006 conflict was over for the time being, but urged both sides to exercise restraint to prevent further escalation of violence.
“This is a serious incident in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” Major-General Stefano Del Col said in a statement late Sunday.
“General calm has been restored in the area and the parties have reassured me of their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities in accordance with Resolution 1701,” he said.
UN chief Antonio Guterres also called on Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah to show “maximum restraint,” saying in a statement Sunday that he was “seriously concerned” by the recent exchange of fire along the border.
Earlier on Sunday, Hezbollah fired a barrage of anti-tank missiles into Israel, prompting a reprisal of heavy Israeli artillery fire, raising fears of an all-out war between the two sides.
Although the shooting quickly subsided without casualties on either side, the situation remained volatile.
Paris said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert an escalation after Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene.
“France has engaged in multiple contacts in the region since the incidents of August 25 with the aim of averting an escalation,” a foreign ministry spokeswoman said in a statement.
“We are in permanent contact with all the Lebanese actors,” she said. “France will pursue efforts in this direction and asks all to assume their responsibilities to quickly restore calm.”
The United States voiced concern over the “destabilizing role” of Iranian proxies in the region and said it “supports Israel’s right to self defense,” a State Department official said.
“Hezbollah should refrain from hostile actions which threaten Lebanon’s security, stability and sovereignty,” the US official added.
Israel and Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war in 2006, have indicated they do not want to go to war but appeared on a collision course in recent days after Hezbollah vowed it would retaliate for a pair of Israeli strikes against the Iran-backed terrorist group — one in Syria claimed by Israel, and another, in Beirut, that the group lays at Israel’s door.
Hezbollah said it fired anti-tank missiles at Israel on Sunday and destroyed an Israeli military vehicle across the border. The IDF said no Israeli soldiers were injured by the 2-3 missiles fired by Hezbollah, which struck a military jeep and an IDF post. It said pictures and videos showing injured soldiers being evacuated had been a ploy meant to trick Hezbollah into thinking it had caused casualties.
The Iranian proxy group indicated the attack was in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike in Syria last month that killed several operatives, including two of its members.
Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said Sunday night that the group “wants to preserve deterrence and the rules of engagement in order to prevent something worse from happening.”
In response, the Israel Defense Forces said, it fired some 100 shells at Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.
By Sunday evening, the fighting appeared to have halted, and the army allowed civilians to return to routine. Schools on Monday opened as normal and farmers were given the go-ahead to work fields near the border. However, Israeli officials said troops along the northern border remained on high alert.
“We are consulting about the next steps,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “I have ordered that we be prepared for any scenario. We will decide on the next steps pending developments.”