Lebanon claims Israel encroaching its territory with new barbed-wire barrier

Wednesday, September 13th 2006, 8:36 am
By: News On 6

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) _ U.N. peacekeepers on Wednesday asked Israel's army to pull down a new barbed-wire barrier that Lebanon said encroached on its territory, a U.N. spokesman said.

Alexander Ivanko, a spokesman for the UNIFIL peacekeeping force, said new wire coils were put up in Lebanese territory between the northern Israeli village of Metulla and Kfar Kila, a town in southern Lebanon.

U.N. forces have asked Israel's army to remove the barrier, Ivanko said.

``We expect them to do so as quickly as possible,'' he said.

The Israeli army said it was repairing the fence along the route set down in a May 2005 U.N. resolution. The repairs were being made in various places along the border because of the war, the army said.

In a recent letter to the head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, Prime Minister Fuad Saniora protested the barrier encroachment along the ``Blue Line'' between the countries, according to Lebanese army and U.N. officials.

New barriers were put up in several places, including the Khiam plain and the town of Gadjar, covering an area about 15 yards deep and a total of nearly two miles wide, the officials said.

The barriers run parallel to existing coils laid out along the Blue Line frontier designated by the United Nations force in 2000, the officials said.

Israeli troops are gradually withdrawing from south Lebanon under a U.N-brokered cease-fire after 34 days of fighting with the Lebanese-based Hezbollah militants starting July 12. Hundreds of people died and thousands fled their devastated homes.

Under a new U.N. Security Council resolution, Israeli forces are expected to withdraw fully from north of the frontier. At their peak, an estimated 30,000 Israeli troops were in Lebanon.

In Berlin, Germany's Cabinet approved the deployment of warships to the eastern Mediterranean as part of the peacekeeping force for Lebanon.

Parliament, which must also approve the deployment, is to vote on it next week. Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives and their Social Democrat coalition partners hold a large majority in the legislature.

``This decision was made in view both of our particular responsibility for Israel's right to exist, and for a solid solution for peace in the region,'' Merkel said.

Peter Struck, head of the Social Democrat faction in the assembly, said earlier in the day that Germany would send up to 2,400 service personnel.

Germany has offered to send warships to help enforce the cease-fire. The ships are supposed to prevent arms shipments from reaching Hezbollah and other militant groups _ a key requirement of the U.N. cease-fire resolution.

Berlin has already begun sending customs officers and border guards to advise Lebanese officials on how to tighten checks on traffic at Beirut airport and Lebanese seaports.

However, it has refused to follow other European nations in sending combat troops to Lebanon, saying its Nazi past precludes putting German soldiers in a situation where they might have to confront Israeli forces.

French, Italian and Greek ships began patrolling the Lebanese coast last week, helping persuade Israel to lift its sea blockade of the country.

A naval task force led by Germany, and including ships from several other European countries, is expected to replace them within two months.

Russia's military is forming a battalion of 350-400 engineers and explosives experts who will be sent to Lebanon to help repair the damage, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said, according to news agencies.

Ivanov said the battalion, which will not include conscripts, will travel to Lebanon in late September or early October, Interfax, ITAR-Tass and RIA-Novosti reported. He said one or two platoons of guards would also be sent, the reports said.

President Vladimir Putin gave final orders Monday for a Russian battalion to travel to Lebanon.

A Russian military plane landed in Beirut on Wednesday carrying 31 members of the contingent, and a second plane brought equipment. Ivanov had said Monday an advance team would travel to Lebanon this week.

Ivanov has also said that the battalion would include experts at disarming unexploded ordnance, as well as engineers to evaluate the damage inflicted on Lebanese roads and bridges. He said it would not be involved in peacekeeping operations.