Destruction of tunnels from Lebanon ‘nearly done’: Netanyahu

Jerusalem: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that the Israeli army’s operation to locate and destroy cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon was near completion.

The Israeli premier’s remarks, made during a tour to the northern frontier with his security cabinet, come a day after the government decided to hold early elections in April.

“The IDF (Israeli army) briefed us on its actions in neutralising the tunnels,” Netanyahu said. “This operation is nearly done.”

“There has been exceptional work here to deny Hezbollah the tunnels weapon,” he said in remarks relayed by his office.

“It has invested greatly in this and we have destroyed it.”

On Friday the army said it had blown up one cross-border tunnel dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon, the first of four it has uncovered — and pledged to destroy — in recent weeks.

On Sunday, Netanyahu said that forces sealed another “terror tunnel” with cement.

A spokeswoman for the army would not provide AFP with details on the status of the other two tunnels known to the Israeli forces.

In launching an operation to cut off the tunnels on December 4, Israel’s military said it located four underground passageways infiltrating Israeli territory.

Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities, while noting they were not yet operational.

A month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

Last week, the UN confirmed the existence of the four tunnels and said at least two of them crossed into Israel but that none of them appeared to have exit points on the Israeli side.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, has called the two tunnels “a serious violation of Resolution 1701”, which ended the 2006 war.

In November, defence minister Avigdor Lieberman stepped down over a controversial Gaza ceasefire deal, with Netanyahu said it would be “irresponsible” to go to elections due to an unspecified security situation facing the country.

The highly publicised Israeli operation to expose and destroy the tunnels — on its territory — has gone ahead without drawing a military response from Hezbollah.