The United Nations Peacekeeping force deployed to the volatile border between Israel and Lebanon told Newsweek of troubling developments with the potential to open a new front for Israel as it contends with a sudden wide-scale assault launched over the weekend by Palestinian militant group Hamas.
And though a larger conflict has yet to erupt, a worsening series of hostilities is already playing out at the disputed boundary.
“The events of the past days are extremely concerning, and we continue to monitor the situation along the Blue Line,” U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told Newsweek. “We have seen exchanges of fire between the Lebanese and Israeli sides, which fortunately have not escalated into widespread conflict.
“Our activities are coordinated with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and many are conducted together with them. We have actively engaged with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line to de-escalate the situation and avoid misunderstandings.”
And while he said that “peacekeepers continue their essential work” under the tumultuous circumstances, he noted that “this has at times been from shelters for their safety.”
UNIFIL came to existence some 45 years ago, and has weathered two major wars between Israel and Lebanon, which is home to the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement that has been at the forefront of cross-border clashes. At 330 fatalities since it began, UNIFIL has the most casualties of any U.N. peacekeeping mission.
Today, UNIFIL counts around 10,000 troops from 49 countries within its ranks, with some of the top contributors being Indonesia, Italy, India, Ghana, Spain, France and China.
Though Israel and Hezbollah have not fought a substantial conflict since 2006, flare-ups of border unrest have emerged over the years, including amid past outbreaks of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The latest rocket attacks from Lebanon came at a particularly volatile point for Israel as it reels from a surprise air, land and sea attack launched by the Palestinian Hamas movement on Saturday in an operation for which Hezbollah has expressed its support.
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) reported Monday on infiltration attempts along the security fence separating the two nations.
Hezbollah initially denied involvement in any border-related incidents but later claimed a new round of rocket and mortar attacks targeting IDF barracks in the north after three Hezbollah members were said to have been killed in Israeli attacks on Lebanese soil. The Lebanese Armed Forces said one of its officers was wounded in Israeli strikes near the southern town of Rmeish.
Newsweek reached out Hezbollah for comment.
Speaking during a press call Monday, IDF spokesperson Major Liad Diamond issued a warning to Hezbollah and other Iranian allies across the region.
“Everybody now is very vigilant here in Israel. The IDF is on high alert,” Diamond said. “We are at war, all of our defense systems are on.”
“Nobody should try us now,” he added.
Tenenti said UNIFIL was actively trying to defuse the situation.
“UNIFIL’s raison d’être is to help avoid conflict between Lebanon and Israel, so any threat to that is a concern,” Tenenti said. “Our focus is on maintaining security and stability in the area. We have fully engaged our liaison and coordination mechanisms at all levels, to help avoid misunderstandings between Lebanon and Israel that could lead to an escalation of conflict.
“This is our main focus at the moment, and we are working 24/7 to accomplish it.”
This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.