LEBANON: Different sides tell different stories regarding explosion
On Tuesday, a series of mysterious explosions in southern Lebanon raised the sensitive issue of Hezbollah’s weapons.
Following the incident, the Lebanese Army and the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) closed off the area to launch a joint investigation into the cause of the explosions.
Meanwhile, Israel quickly cited the explosion as evidence that Iran and Syria have continued to send weapons to Hezbollah in violation of U.N. resolutions.
A senior Israeli officer told reporters that a warehouse that blew up on Tuesday was filled with rockets smuggled from Syria.
"The walls of the building were crushed and there are also many holes in the roof of the building," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity, according to the Associated Press. "We believe that this is one of dozens of ammunition storage [depots] in southern Lebanon that were built by Hezbollah." This particular depot is part of "the buildup of the Hezbollah force" in Lebanon, he added.
The explosions took place in the village of Khirbat Silm, south of the Litani River and therefore in the jurisdiction of UNIFIL. Residents initially thought it was an Israeli airstrike.
UNIFIL was redeployed to the area between the Litani River and Israel’s northern border in the fall of 2006, following the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah. Security Council Resolution 1701 replaced Hezbollah militants with UNIFIL. Previously Hezbollah was responsible for border security before the 2006 war that left more than a thousand Lebanese, mostly civilians, and dozens of Israelis dead.
What exactly exploded is disputed.
An army source told the Lebanese Daily al-Hayat the building “contained artillery shells, rockets and machine guns that were used by the party [Hezbollah] during the war of July 2006 to address the Israeli progress towards Ghanduriyeh and Frun.”
A spokeswoman for UNIFIL said that early evidence pointed toward an arms cache: “From the preliminary information we have — the sequence of explosions is likely to have been triggered by the presence of explosives in the building.”
“UNIFIL considers this incident a serious violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, notably the provision that there should be no presence of unauthorized assets or weapons in the area of operations between the Litani River and the Blue Line. ”
Hezbollah officials also were on the scene following the explosion. A source close to Hezbollah told al-Hayat that the building was full of cluster bombs that Israel employed during the 2006 war.
Obscuring the situation further, a security source told the English language Daily Star that the site was an “arms assembly plant.”
Hezbollah’s weapons are a very sensitive issue in the politics of the region, as well as in domestic Lebanese politics. Earlier this summer, the March 14th coalition defeated the Hezbollah-led March 8th coalition on a platform of a stronger Lebanese state, taking aim at the Shiite group’s non-state weapons.
Currently, Lebanese politics is focused on the formation of the government. Hezbollah is seeking to participate, ideally with a minority veto to keep its weapons. The Israeli government hopes that Hezbollah does not participate, warning that legitimizing Hezbollah could endanger the Lebanese government.
Today Israel announced it had successfully tested an anti-missile system to counter Hezbollah’s missile arsenal, some of which was possibly destroyed in the explosion.
— Jahd Khalil in Beirut
Photo: A Lebanese soldier monitors the border with Israel from his post in the southern village of Shebaa, Lebanon. Credit: Mohammed Zaatari / Associated Press