BEIRUT (AFP) – Israel and Lebanon are both opposed to a military escalation along their shared border, the head the UN force deployed in south Lebanon said on Thursday, two weeks after deadly frontier skirmishes.
UNIFIL commander Alberto Asarta Cuevas had “received assurances from the parties that they want to continue working closely with UNIFIL to maintain calm in the area,” the United Nations said in a statement after a meeting on Wednesday between Asarta and senior Israeli and Lebanese officers.
“No-one is interested in an escalation. All parties must strive to maintain the cessation of hostilities,” the major-general was quoted as saying.
On August 3, three Lebanese nationals, two soldiers and a journalist, and an Israeli soldier were killed in a shootout sparked when Israeli troops tried to cut down a tree on the border, prompting Lebanese soldiers to open fire.
It was the most serious confrontation in four years and saw both sides threatening retaliation if the shooting recurred.
UNIFIL confirmed afterwards that the Israeli troops were on their own side of the border when the skirmish erupted and that the disputed trees were on Israeli territory.
At Wednesday’s meeting the three parties discussed “ways to speed up the process of visibly marking the Blue Line on the ground,” the UN said, referring to the UN-drawn border established in 2000 when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon.
“The process (of visibly marking the border) is an important endeavour which would reduce tension and the possibility of inadvertent violations,” Asarta said.
“The parties have expressed to me their strong interest in speeding up this process.” he added.
UNIFIL, which was set up in 1978 to monitor the border between Israel and southern Lebanon, was considerably beefed after the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.