NEW YORK, New York - The UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon is sending a team to Israel to "ascertain facts" about a network of tunnels Israel claims has been built by Hezbollah.
The measure is in response to an announcement by the Israeli army on Tuesday that it had launched an operation termed 'Operation Northern Shield' to detect, expose and ultimately destroy what it says are tunnels the Hezbollah militant group has been building for years.
Hezbollah has not commented on the claim, however the speaker in the Lebanon parliament, Nabih Berri, who is affiliated with the group, told the National News Agency Israel has not provided any information or 'coordinates' to back its claim, and has presented no evidences that Hezbollah has built a network of tunnels connecting Lebanon to Israel.
The UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL says it wants full access to the tunnels claimed to have been discovered.
The mission meets once a week with the Lebanese and Israeli armies. It is understood this week's meeting discussed the development.
Israel has posted videos on social media, and released images of what it says are 'attack tunnels.' An image of a block factory in Kafr Kila village which the Israeli army says is the starting point for one of the tunnels was publicly released on Wednesday.
The issue first came to light a day earlier when the army announced the launching of Operation Northern Shield.
"Today we discovered the first tunnel, 200 metres long, 20 metres deep, two metres wide, which was built by Hezbollah operatives over a long period of time, with the purpose of allowing Hezbollah terrorists to come from inside Lebanon into Israel," Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus of the Israeli army said in a video statement on Tuesday.
"Now you can see here the location, where it was dug. You can see that it was dug from inside a civilian home concealed, made to look innocent. This is Hezbollah trying to conceal the fact that they are digging a tunnel, which is a military activity, from inside a civilian home," he said.
The statement from Lt. Col. Conriucus was delivered in what appeared to be an open area and did not show images of a tunnel. However the army has posted two separate videos, one which shows a man walking along it and emerging, with the message: "We surprised this Hezbollah operative before he could surprise Israeli civilians."
Conricus's statement then sets out what Israel plans to do about the tunnels it says it has discovered, and explains the operation, and how long it will take.
"What Israel is planning, for the coming days and weeks, Operation Northern Shield, is to detect and expose, and ultimately destroy all of Hezbollah's attack tunnels they have built over a long period of time" he said.
"We have started today, we don't know when the operation will end. It will end when we can confirm every Hezbollah tunnel has been exposed and destroyed, so that the citizens here in northern Israel can sleep safely in their homes."
"Now in terms of operations, we are operating on the Israeli side of the Blue Line only. There can be no claim of violating sovereignty," the Israeli army officer said.