Israel took 'years' to find cross-border tunnels: Hezbollah chief

Beirut (AFP) –


Israel took "years" to discover cross-border tunnels from Lebanon, the leader of the Hezbollah movement Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday in a rare television interview.

"The Israelis discovered a number of tunnels after many years, and it's not a surprise, the surprise is that these tunnels, they took some time to find," Nasrallah said on the al-Mayadeen channel.

Earlier this month Israel concluded an operation to unearth and destroy tunnels which the army accused Hezbollah of digging across the border from Lebanon.

"Yes, there are tunnels in southern Lebanon," Nasrallah said, in his first comments on the issue since Israel announced the operation on December 4.

The Hezbollah leader refused to specify whether they were built before the 2006 war between his militia group and Israel, or who had constructed them.

The month-long war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

"One of the tunnels discovered in recent weeks is 13 or 14 years" old, said a smiling Nasrallah.

The Israeli operation brought to light the "failure" of the country's intelligence services, he added.

Israel's army said on January 13 it had destroyed all cross-border tunnels, either with explosives or by filling them with a cement-like material to make them unusable.

The military did not given a total figure for the tunnels found, although it announced six during the course of the operation.

Israel alleges Hezbollah had planned to use the tunnels to kidnap or kill its civilians or soldiers, and to seize a slice of Israeli territory in the event of any hostilities.

Lebanon and Israel are technically still at war, but the border has remained relatively calm in recent years.

Hezbollah is the only movement to refuse to give up its weapons after Lebanon's civil war between 1975 and 1990.