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KFAR TIBNIT, Lebanon — On the outskirts of this southern Lebanese village, staff in a pickup truck parked at a nature reserve named after a fallen fighter of the militant Hezbollah group. They took two giant eucalyptus tree seedlings out of the truck and planted them.

The boys are from Inexperienced With out Borders, a non-governmental group that claims it goals to guard Lebanon’s inexperienced areas and plant timber.

However Israel, the USA and a few in Lebanon accuse the NGO of being an arm of Hezbollah to cover its army actions. They are saying the group has been organising outposts for the militant group alongside the border with Israel. Final month, residents within the southern Christian village of Rmaych close to the border mentioned they encountered armed males at an outpost of the group that was blocking them from farmlands.

Inexperienced With out Borders denies any hyperlink to Hezbollah, which additionally says it isn’t linked to the environmental group.

“We are not an arm for anyone,” the top of Inexperienced With out Borders, Zouher Nahli, instructed The Related Press. “We as an environmental association work for all the people and we are not politicized.” He spoke on the Bassam Tabaja Nature Reserve, named for a Hezbollah fighter killed in Syria in 2014, the place the NGO has planted lots of of timber.

He mentioned the group’s funding comes from the ministries of setting and agriculture in addition to from rich Lebanese who care concerning the setting and municipalities, primarily within the japanese Bekaa Valley and southern Lebanon. He mentioned he’s an Agriculture Ministry worker.

Because it started operations in 2009, the group has helped plant about 2 million timber, Nahli mentioned.

Israel and Hezbollah are archenemies and have fought a number of wars over the previous many years, the final of which resulted in August 2006. The 34-day battle killed 1,200 in Lebanon, principally civilians, and 160 Israelis, principally troopers.

The U.N. Safety Council decision that ended that conflict mentioned the border space ought to be freed from “any armed personnel, assets and weapons,” apart from these of the federal government and U.N. peacekeepers. After the conflict, hundreds of Lebanese troops had been deployed within the border zone and the U.N. peacekeeping pressure, referred to as UNIFIL, which has been current there since 1978, was beefed up.

In a November report, UNIFIL mentioned transport containers and prefabricated buildings, a few of them with seen Inexperienced With out Borders markings, had been arrange at 16 websites alongside the border. In a number of cases, UNIFIL patrols had been prevented from nearing the places, it mentioned.

The Israeli army says Inexperienced With out Borders outposts on the border are utilized by Hezbollah to collect intelligence info.

At a Safety Council assembly in September, the U.S. deputy U.N. ambassador, Richard Mills, mentioned the proliferation of the group’s outposts alongside the border obstructs UNIFIL entry and “is heightening tensions in the area, further demonstrating that this so-called environmental group is acting on Hezbollah’s behalf.”

On the assembly, the council unanimously permitted a decision strongly condemning harassment, intimidation, assaults and restrictions on UNIFIL.

Final month, an Irish U.N. peacekeeper was killed and several other others had been wounded when attackers opened fireplace on a UNIFIL convoy in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah denied any connection to the assault.

Nahli mentioned he was not conscious of any transport containers or buildings being arrange by his group. “All we do along the border is protect forests and all the claims are illogical and baseless,” he mentioned.

Residents in border Shiite villages that help Hezbollah reward the group. It “is doing good for the environment and planting trees along the border. We are very happy with their work,” mentioned Salah Rammal, a store proprietor within the border village of Odaisseh.

Residents of the Christian village Rmaych, nevertheless, have complained for years a couple of place arrange by Inexperienced With out Borders on farmland belonging to village households in a close-by valley. They are saying the group didn’t plant any timber there and truly chopped down timber and minimize a 1.5-kilometer (1-mile) filth street on their land.

“It is a cover for Hezbollah to have positions. We have no problems with Hezbollah, but it should be outside our lands,” mentioned Bassam al-Haj, a Rmaych schoolteacher.

In December, al-Haj and different residents went to the outpost and confronted the lads there. Al-Haj mentioned a few of the males on the website had been masked and armed, and that the outpost included a number of rooms, a tent and a fence that blocked off village farmland.

The residents and the lads argued, he mentioned. One resident who was videoing the encounter was instructed by one of many males, “We will crush you if you don’t delete the photos that you took,” al-Haj mentioned.

Days after the confrontation, a Hezbollah official and members of the group visited the village and met residents on the mayor’s workplace, mentioned Father Najib al-Ameel, a priest from Rmaych who attended the talks.

The mayor and residents requested that the submit be eliminated, he mentioned. Al-Ameel mentioned he instructed the Hezbollah official, “We will not accept anyone but the Lebanese army to protect us.” A couple of days later, Inexperienced With out Borders eliminated the submit and now residents can freely entry their land, he mentioned.

Nahli mentioned the media had blown the incident in Rmaych out of proportion and refused to debate particulars. Prior to now, Hezbollah has blamed frictions at Rmaych on members of the Christian Lebanese Forces get together, which is amongst Hezbollah’s harshest critics.

When requested if peacekeepers might go to the group’s websites, UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti mentioned, “We had the possibility, of course, to monitor the whole area of operations and also areas and places where Green Without Borders operated.”

He mentioned there has not been “a breach of 1701,” the Safety Council decision that ended the 2006 conflict.

Nahli argued that Inexperienced With out Border’s work is sorely wanted. Over the previous few many years, Lebanon has skilled one of many world’s worst deforestation charges, which he mentioned has accelerated because the economic system collapsed, beginning in late 2019, as poor individuals minimize timber to make use of the wooden for heating. The forested space has dropped from 25% of the nation’s territory to solely round 3% now, he mentioned.

“We are trying by all our means, in coordination with all concerned authorities, to prevent more deforestation,” he mentioned.

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About Bassem Mroue and Fay Abuelgasim | AP

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