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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Israel touts footage of Hezbollah members in cross-border tunnel 

The videos show a wide tunnel complete with ventilation and lighting they say spans from Lebanon into Israel

Israeli military diggers work on the Lebanese-Israeli border next to a wall that was built by Israel in the southern village of Kafr Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to "expose and thwart" tunnels it says were built by the Hezbollah militant group that stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Israeli military diggers work on the Lebanese-Israeli border next to a wall that was built by Israel in the southern village of Kafr Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to "expose and thwart" tunnels it says were built by the Hezbollah militant group that stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Two men trudge up what appears to be a steep earthy slope inside a tunnel large enough for two people to comfortably pass each other. As the first man, wearing jeans and a striped T-shirt, gets near the camera and peers down at the lens, sparks spill into view and the pair turn and run into the darkness.

The Israeli military on Tuesday night released footage of what they say is two Hezbollah members inside a recently discovered tunnel that crosses from Lebanon into Israel.

Another video footage issued by the Israeli military shows a gloomy tunnel with ventilation pipes, lights and support beams. The passageways are said to be two meters in width and height and originate under a private residence in the Lebanese border village of Kafr Kila, which abuts the border.

The Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila is seen behind the barrier wall as Israeli army personnel and heavy machinery work on the Israeli side of the border, in Israel's northernmost town Metula, early morning December 5, 2018.
The Lebanese border village of Kfar Kila is seen behind the barrier wall as Israeli army personnel and heavy machinery work on the Israeli side of the border. AFP

Some 200 meters long and up to 25 meters deep, the military says that the tunnels are significantly larger than most of the discovered tunnels dug by Hamas out of Gaza. The Israelis believe it could have taken at least two years to dig given the sophistication and the local geology.

The military didn’t say where the two tunnels shown in the videos were – or indeed if they were the same tunnel – but the Israeli army has launched an operation in the town of Metulla, just meters from the UN-demarcated Blue Line that separates Israel from Lebanon.

While Hezbollah is yet to make a statement regarding the operation, sources in the party told Lebanon’s An Nahar newspaper that the claims were fabricated by Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deflect from crises back home.

Earlier this week, Israeli police recommended the prime minister and his wife be indicted on bribery charges in a corruption case involving the country’s telecoms giant in a 'laws for coverage' scandal.

The news of the operation launched on Tuesday by the Israeli military to clear a number of cross-border passageways sparked a flurry of meetings in Beirut.

President Michel Aoun contacted Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and army commander Gen Joseph Aoun to discuss the operation.

Mr Aoun also met US Ambassador to Lebanon Elizabeth Richard, who told the media after the meeting that they had discussed the operation on the border while restating her country’s commitment to supporting Lebanon, the state-run National News Agency reported.

At the same time in Washington, US National Security Adviser John Bolton told the media that America fully supported the Israeli operation.

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Danny Danon, Israel's permanent representative to the UN, confirmed the action against the tunnels and said the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) and Lebanese armed forces were not doing enough to curtail Hezbollah's activity.

Speaking to reporters he said that Hezbollah was using civilian infrastructure to carry out terror attacks against Israel, although he did not specify any cases.

South Lebanon has experienced the longest period of calm since before the country's 15-year civil war, with 12 years of stability since the 2006 war. The US and Israel regularly accuse Hezbollah of violating UN Security Council resolution 1701 by building military infrastructure in preparation for future conflicts however.

Indonesian U.N peacekeepers stand in front a poster of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, as they patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to "expose and thwart" tunnels it says were built by the Hezbollah militant group that stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)
Indonesian UN peacekeepers stand in front a poster of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as they patrol the Lebanese side of the Lebanese-Israeli border in the southern village of Kfar Kila. AP

Israel has also been constructing a large concrete border wall in recent months in a bid to prevent future cross-border incursions.

According to Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, the tunnels were part of a Hezbollah plan since 2012 to “shift the battlefield to Israel” and “conquer the Galilee” in a future conflict.

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah, in his regular televised speeches, has warned that a future conflict will see fighting shift from Lebanon to Israel.

The powerful Iran-backed force has a long history of tunnel networks, using them to devastating effect during the 34-day 2006 war. Fighters were able to move quickly underground, emerge to ambush Israeli infantry and tank columns, and then melt back into the countryside before air strikes could be called in.