An Israeli Merkava tank parked near the border with Lebanon, after the area was declared a closed military zone by the Israeli army. Image Credit: AFP

Highlights

  • Second cross-border tunnel discovered this week
  • Israeli military fired at three Hezbollah suspects
  • Israeli minister said Israel prepared to take action in Lebanon
  • UNIFIL confirmed the existence of a tunnel near the "blue line" frontier

Jerusalem - Israeli forces said Saturday they uncovered another Hezbollah tunnel dug from Lebanon, an announcement that came shortly after troops fired at suspected members of the Lebanese militant group who approached the site of Israeli army engineering working to thwart tunnels.

The find makes this at least the second cross-border tunnel discovered since Israel began an operation this week to detect and "neutralize" attack passageways dug by the Iranian-backed group into northern Israel.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli army spokesman, told reporters the new tunnel runs into Israel but "does not pose an imminent threat to Israeli communities."

The Israeli military sent mechanical diggers, troops and anti-tunneling equipment to the border to shut them down.

Southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila near the border with Israel shows Israeli machinery (R) operating next to a border wall. Israel's army said it has discovered Hezbollah tunnels infiltrating its territory from Lebanon and launched an operation to destroy them Image Credit: AFP

He said explosives were placed in the tunnel to prevent infiltration into Israel, adding that Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible "for the activities and all Hezbollah violations."

Earlier on Saturday, the Israeli military said it fired at three Hezbollah suspects who approached the border where the army was working.

UN peacekeepers (UNIFIL) patrol the border in southern village of Adaisseh Image Credit: AFP

Lebanese goverement said that the Israeli soldiers fired in the air when they were surprised by a Lebanese army patrol on the Lebanese side.

Netanyahu said this week that the tunnels were meant for use by Hezbollah fighters to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon and carry out attacks.

Netanyahu briefs Putin on anti-tunnel operation

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefed Russian President Vladimir Putin on Israel's crackdown on the tunnels, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

Netanyahu told Putin about details of the Israel military operation on the border, the Kremlin said.

The leaders also discussed the situation in Syria, and Putin stressed the importance of improving Russian-Israeli military cooperation, the Kremlin said.

Putin and Netanyahu also agreed to work out the possibility of a future personal meeting.

More on Israeli-Russian ties

During their phone call, initiated by Netanyahu, "The President of Russia stressed the importance of ensuring stability in the region," the Kremlin statement said.

Russia has links to Hezbollah's allies in neighboring Syria where it has lent President Bashar Al Assad critical support in the country's civil war. Lebanese Hezbollah is also aiding Assad, as is its backer Iran.

Israel has largely stayed out of the Syria conflict, but it has launched dozens of air strikes against what it said were advanced weapon deliveries to Hezbollah, with whom it fought a war in 2006.

Israel is worried that Iran, its arch-foe in the region, is using the Syria conflict to keep its forces in Syria permanently.

A statement from Netanyahu said that in his phone call with Putin he had also "stressed once more Israel's policy aimed at preventing Iran's entrenchment in Syria and at acting against Iran and Hezbollah's aggression."

The relationship between Russia and Israel has been strained since September, when Russia accused Israel of indirectly causing the downing of a Russian military jet by Syrian air defences following an Israeli air strike nearby.

In October, Moscow said it had delivered S-300 surface-to-air missiles to Syria, where Israel has struck Iranian targets.

So far the Israel-Lebanon border has remained largely quiet but there are fears of escalation.

On Friday, an Israeli cabinet minister said Israel was prepared to take action in Lebanon against the cross-border tunnels if it deemed it necessary.

The United Nations peacekeeping Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed the existence of a tunnel near the "blue line" frontier between Israel and Lebanon on Thursday, describing it as a "serious occurrence".

Israel is also concerned about Hezbollah obtaining precision-missiles and in September identified three locations in Lebanon where it said the group was converting "inaccurate projectiles" into precision-guided missiles - something Lebanon's government has denied.