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Lebanon accuses Israel of hack as residents receive messages warning of attack

A Serbian U.N. peacekeeper looks through binoculars to monitor the border with Israel while standing next to an armored vehicle, during a patrol of the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the southern village of Kfar Kila, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 19, 2015.
AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari
An IDF Arabic spokesman also warned residents on Twitter to evacuate the village amidst a 'ticking time bomb'

Lebanon has lodged a complaint with the United Nations against Israel arguing Israeli actions on their shared border are a prelude to an Israeli military assault, after Lebanese border residents received messages warning of an imminent attack on Thursday.

A letter sent to the UN Security Council by Lebanon’s ambassador accused Israel of launching a political and diplomatic campaign against Lebanon, following Israel launching a military operation along the border to prevent and destroy underground tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israeli territory earlier this week.

After Israel allegedly hacked the Lebanese national communications network and sent messages to residents of Kfar Kila warning there would be bombings on Lebanese territories and their lives would be endangered, Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Thursday he had instructed the country’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Amal Mudallali to submit the complaint.

“This constitutes a new and extremely serious attack on the security and safety of the citizens of Lebanon, whereby Israel is violating the dignity and privacy of individuals and making a direct threat against their lives,” the Lebanese ambassador to the UN wrote in a letter to the UN Security Council on Thursday.

Mudallali accused Israel of committing “very serious acts” after the network hack which came days after Israel announced the launch of "Operation Northern Shield," to thwart the Hezbollah "terror" tunnels.

The letter called on the Security Council to "take all measures necessary to confront this systematic campaign being waged by Israel and Israel’s ongoing violations of Lebanese sovereignty, which are a threat to the security and stability of the entire region.”

“This constitutes a new and extremely serious attack on the security and safety of the citizens of Lebanon, whereby Israel is violating the dignity and privacy of individuals and making a direct threat against their lives,” Mudallali wrote. AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari

“Lebanon condemns in the strongest possible terms the political and diplomatic campaign being waged by Israel against Lebanon, which it fears is a prelude to the launch of further attacks,” the envoy said.

“That campaign is being accompanied by a number of extremely serious acts, of which the most recent is that Israel has breached the Lebanese communications grid by hacking into the telephone network and sending recorded messages to peaceable civilian inhabitants...warning them of imminent explosions to take place on Lebanese territory that might put their lives at risk,” the Lebanese complaint argued. 

Israel frequently warns civilians prior to launching an attack in areas where non-military casualties may be incurred, leading Lebanon to consider very seriously the message residents received on Thursday.

The same day as the phone messages, IDF Arabic spokesperson on Twitter wrote a warning to Kfar Kila residents to leave the area, claiming they were living in a "ticking time bomb."

"We do not know if Hezbollah planted explosives inside those tunnels and we advise you to rethink if you are able to continue living in these homes where there is a ticking time bomb that risks your security," Avichay Adraee wrote. "When [the IDF] completes its activity, we'll keep you informed that returning to your homes is safer."

Israel's Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon denounced the letter as "hypocritical."

“The Lebanese government, under whose rule Hezbollah has built an underground city of tunnels and factories for precision-guided missiles against Israel, is hypocritically trying to condemn Israel, which is working to protect its civilians," Danon said Friday. 

Danon also called for the UN Security Council to meet to discuss the issue, a request Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also pressed for in recent days. 

On Thursday, Netanyahu led a group of foreign ambassadors through a tour of Israel’s north, urging them to “condemn the aggression unequivocally and intensify the sanctions” against Hezbollah. 

Following the announcement of the tunnel operation, the IDF said that Israel has seen over the years a concerted effort by Iran-backed Hezbollah to dig such tunnels, though emphasized that none were yet operational nor posed an imminent threat to Israeli civilians.

So far, the IDF has said it has found two cross-border tunnels, believed by Israel to be part of a Hezbollah plan to conquer parts of the Galilee territory in the country’s north, one of which has been confirmed to exist by the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). 

Lebanon's Prime Minister designate, Saad Hariri, said on Wednesday that the Israeli operation at the border should not lead to any escalation.IDF

Underlining the fact the Lebanese army had the authority and responsibility to protect its borders, he blasted Israel for its “continued violation of Lebanese airspace and territorial waters.”

Hariri said the issue would be taken up with both UN General Secretariat and Security Council, but stressed his government's "commitment to the full obligations of Resolution 1701 and to the ongoing coordination and cooperation between Lebanese authorities and U.N. forces."

-UNIFIL-

Hours after touring the northern border with Israel's Defense Forces (IDF) on Thursday, Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed the existence of a Hezbollah cross border tunnel.

UNIFIL "visited a location near Metula in northern Israel", it said in a statement, and "can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location."

Netanyahu addressed the work of UNIFIL to the ambassador's on Thursday, calling on the force to expand its role on the Israeli-Lebanese border.

"UNIFIL should expand its role, because evidently it’s not been done. UNIFIL is supposed to monitor, at the very least monitor if not stop, the transfer of weapons into Lebanon, into south Lebanon," Netanyahu said.

"And you know there were 15,000 rockets and missiles at the end of the Second Lebanon War. There’s about ten times that and we haven’t seen a single case, a single filing of a complaint or report by UNIFIL," he added.

GIL COHEN-MAGEN (POOL/AFP)

The Israeli Prime Minister also touched on the subject of an escalation as a result of "Operation Northern Shield", which his Lebanese counterpart Saad Hariri downplayed.

"We’re going to destroy more (tunnels). My goal was first of all to dismantle these terror tunnels without getting into broad escalation. We passed a clear message of what we’re doing and so far I can’t tell you that the risk of escalation doesn’t exist but I don’t think it’s quite as… If you pass the first 24 or 48 hours, and we are there, without an escalation, I think the risk is much lower," Netanyahu said.

"It exists, we’re ready, we’re deployed, we’re all ready to go if we have to, but I’m not sure that Hezbollah will make the terrible mistake of testing our resolve and our preparedness," he added.

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