BEIRUT — Hezbollah denied to L'Orient-Le Jour on Tuesday morning that it had removed one of the tents it set up several weeks ago in a border area disputed with Israel.
Israeli media outlet Times of Israel has claimed that Hezbollah removed "one of the two tents set up along the Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel," based on several reports published late on Sunday evening.
Ynet, an Israeli news website, reported that "the same number of Hezbollah fighters are still on the Israeli side of the disputed area and have regrouped in one tent, while the second has been moved to the Lebanese side."
Walla, another Israeli news site, reported that "Israeli officials believe that Hezbollah is discreetly seeking to avoid an armed confrontation with Israel by moving the tent." The Jerusalem Post also reported that Hezbollah "is believed to have moved one of its tents from Israeli to Lebanese territory," citing "well-informed" sources.
Mohammad Afif Naboulsi, a spokesman for Hezbollah, denied this information in statements to L'Orient-Le Jour on Tuesday morning, claiming that "the tents are still there" and that the party has "no intention to remove them."
On June 21, Israel claimed that Hezbollah has infiltrated its territory and set up at least one military tent in recent weeks, according to an army statement reported by the Israeli media. In its statement, the Israeli army said it intended to deal with the matter "through diplomatic channels" and to have the tents removed by the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
However, it threatened to use force if the tents were not removed quickly.
For its part, UNIFIL told L'Orient-Le Jour that it knew of only one tent, set up in the Kfarchouba region of southern Lebanon, and that it could not confirm who was behind it.
The area in which the tent or tents are located is close to the one where a Lebanese farmer defended his land against an Israeli army bulldozer in early June. On June 9, Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at Lebanese demonstrators in the same area, during a demonstration in solidarity with the farmer.
The United Nations drew the Blue Line in June 2000, following the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon on May 25 of that year, putting an end to an occupation that had begun in 1982.
This is a "withdrawal line," as a large part of the border remains disputed. UNIFIL was created in 1978 to act as a buffer force between Lebanon and Israel, but tensions are frequent along the Blue Line. In March, fears of potential military tensions were expressed following construction work apparently carried out by Israel within this perimeter.