UN chief raps IAF Lebanon overflights

Top officer says they will continue until kidnapped soldiers are returned.

iaf taking off 298 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
iaf taking off 298 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Citing continued violations of the Blue Line international border between Israel and Lebanon, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon slammed Israel in a report he submitted to the Security Council last week on the implementation of Resolution 1701 that ended the Lebanon war last summer. Contradicting claims by high-ranking IAF officers that Israel had dramatically reduced the number of flights over Lebanon, Ban claimed the opposite saying that UNIFIL had reported an increase in overflights in February and March. On some days, the report claimed, Israel violated Lebanese airspace more than 10 times with flights by fighter jets, intelligence-gathering planes and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. In response, a high-ranking IAF officer told The Jerusalem Post that Israel planned to continue flying over Lebanon until the Lebanese fully implemented 1701, which included the return of abducted reservists Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser, and put an end to the arms smuggling to Hizbullah across the Syrian border. Ban noted reports by UNIFIL of increased tensions between the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and IDF along the Blue Line, citing a number of cases in which soldiers from both militaries pointed their weapons at one another. Ban also took Israel to task on its repeated refusal to transfer data related to the use of cluster bombs by the IDF during the Lebanon war. The report revealed the extent of the use of cluster bombs, claiming that Israel had dropped them on 854 targets covering more than 34 million square meters. According to the report, each strike location contains hundreds of individual bomblets or sub-munitions and as of February 22, the bomblets have caused 22 civilian deaths and 159 injuries. "I call on the government of Israel, once again, to review its policy of overflights through Lebanese airspace, which are a continuing violation of Resolution 1701 (2006), and most urgently to provide the UN with all information on cluster munitions fired during the 2006 conflict," Ban wrote in the report. In response, a senior government official said that Israel's use of cluster bombs was in "complete compliance with international law" and came in the face of "overwhelming attacks" against Israeli civilian targets. Regarding Israeli claims that Syria was smuggling weapons into Lebanon, Ban suggested that Security Council members weigh supporting an "independent assessment mission to consider the monitoring of the border." He said the authentication of detailed information from Israel about alleged breaches of the arms embargo across the Lebanese-Syrian border would require independent military assessment. In the report, Ban warned that without progress on "core issues" including the abducted soldiers and Lebanese prisoners as well as the disputed Sheba Farms and Israeli overflights, "progress on 1701 could be severely tested in the months to come." Ban said he was nonetheless pleased that the overall commitment of the governments of Israel and Lebanon to the resolution "remains strong." Herb Keinon and AP contributed to this report.