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Israel calls for international response to Hezbollah tunnels

Israeli military digger works on the border with Lebanon in the northern Israeli town of Metula, Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018. The Israeli military launched an operation on Tuesday to "expose and thwart" tunnels built by the Hezbollah militant group it says stretch from Lebanon into northern Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's prime minister on Thursday asked the international community to impose additional sanctions on Hezbollah and condemn the Lebanese militant group in response to the discovery of tunnels stretching from southern Lebanon into northern Israel.

Stepping up an international pressure campaign against Hezbollah, Israel also hosted the commander of a U.N. peacekeeping force, showing him one of the tunnels and urging the force to take action across the border.

The Israeli military this week launched an open-ended operation meant to expose and thwart what it says are tunnels built by the Lebanese militant group aimed at infiltrating Israel. The two sides are bitter enemies and fought an inconclusive monthlong war in 2006.

Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, toured the operation's area with a group of foreign ambassadors Thursday.

"I told the ambassadors that they need to unequivocally condemn this aggression against us by Iran, by Hezbollah and by Hamas, and of course, to also strengthen the sanctions against these elements," Netanyahu said.

Netanyahu also said he will demand the U.N. Security Council discuss the matter.

He said that at the end of the operation, the tunnels "will no longer exist and will no longer be effective."

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, told reporters Thursday that the army is now operating in three areas where tunnels have been discovered.

"We are aware of additional tunnels," he said.

He said that Israel's northern commander, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strik, on Thursday gave Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, the commander of the U.N.'s peacekeeping force in Lebanon, a tour of a tunnel that entered Israel.

In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Del Col confirmed the existence of the tunnel during the inspection and promised to pursue "urgent follow-up action." He also said the U.N. force, called UNIFIL, will share its findings with the "appropriate authorities" in Lebanon.

"It is very important to determine the full picture of this serious occurrence," he said.

Strik also presented UNIFIL a map with the location of a second tunnel, along with houses in Lebanon that Israel says are connected to the tunnel. He said Israel demanded that UNIFIL investigate and "neutralize" the shaft of the tunnel.

Israel says it holds the Lebanese government responsible for the actions of Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militant group that enjoys significant political power in Lebanon.

In Lebanon, the LBC TV posted an audio message that it said some residents of the border village of Kfar Kila received on their cellphones Thursday warning them to stay away from tunnels.

"Hezbollah is putting your lives in danger because of digging tunnels," said the Arabic audio message, which appeared to have been sent by Israel. "These tunnels could explode. Anyone who is close to the tunnels is putting his or her life in danger."

The Lebanese foreign minister on Thursday instructed Lebanon's representative at the United Nations to lodge a complaint against Israel over of its "diplomatic and political campaign against Lebanon that seeks to pave the way for an aggression." He also denounced Israel's encroachment on the Lebanese telecommunications network by sending recorded messages to the residents of Kfar Kila.

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Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer contributed reporting from the United Nations in New York.

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