Lebanon files urgent complaint to UN against Israel flights

BEIRUT (AP) — Lebanon will file an urgent complaint with the United Nations against Israel’s daily violations of its airspace amid intensifying drone reconnaissance and mock raids around the country, the president’s office said Tuesday.

President Michel Aoun called for a condemnation of Israel’s “aggression and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty” and the U.N. resolution that brought about the cessation of hostilities between the two countries following their last all-out conflict in 2006.

The two countries remain technically at war and Lebanon has repeatedly complained of Israel’s violations of its airspace and waters.

Israel’s military and Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to queries seeking comment.

In recent weeks, Israeli military jets have carried out several low-altitude flying flights over the capital and other major cities, causing jitters among civilians who are no strangers to conflict. Warplanes have appeared in Beirut skies, causing loud noise, including on Christmas Eve. The flights terrorized residents of the city who have recently survived a massive explosion in the port.

Reconnaissance drones sometimes remain in Lebanese airspace for 24 hours at a time, said a Lebanese military official who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Israel rarely comments on such missions, but Israeli officials have said the overflights are necessary because Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah militant is violating the 2006 U.N. resolution that bars it from building up its military capabilities and operating near the Israeli border.

Many such raids are often to carry out strikes in neighboring Syria, where Israel has been targeting Iranian-backed militias and posts for Lebanon’s Hezbollah group fighting alongside Syrian troops in that country’s civil war.

Israel has expressed concern, and acted to thwart, increasing Iranian and Hezbollah presence near its borders, including a stockpile of precision-guided missiles.

Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, in a year-end interview, said Israel’s efforts to curb his group’s ability to acquire those missiles have failed, adding that it now has twice as many as it had last year.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz visited a base in the occupied Golan Heights along the Syrian frontier on Tuesday. Israel is believed to have carried out a number of airstrikes in recent weeks on targets connected to Iran and Hezbollah in Syria.

“We continue to stand on guard on all of our borders. We have acted and we will continue to act against anyone who tries to challenge us from near or far,” Gantz said.

The frequent Israeli flights over Lebanese airspace come at a time of heightened tension in the region in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Many fear retaliation for the U.S. killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani last year may come before Trump leaves office, or conflict erupting to scuttle efforts by Joe Biden’s incoming administration to negotiate with Iran.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon says Israel enters Lebanese airspace on a daily basis in violation of U.N. resolutions and the country’s sovereignty.

Between June and October 2020, UNIFIL recorded a daily average of 12.63 airspace violations, totaling 61 hours and 51 minutes in flight time, a significant increase from the previous four months. Then, drones accounted for most of the violations.

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Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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