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Hezbollah could 'for years' enter Israel, Nasrallah says after tunnels found

Hezbollah leader also warns Israel against continuing strikes in Syria targeting Iranian positions, saying it could fuel war in the region
Image grab from Al-Mayadeen TV on Saturday of Hezbollah movement Hassan Nasrallah (AFP)

Iran-backed Hezbollah has "for years" been able to enter Israel, the Lebanese group's leader said on Saturday, responding for the first time to Israel's discovery of tunnels dug into Israeli territory from Lebanon.

"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 in a rare interview on the Al-Mayadeen TV channel.

"Part of our plan in the next war is to enter into Galilee, a part of our plan we are capable of, God willing. The important thing is that we have this capability and we have had it for years," Nasrallah said in the interview, as quoted by Reuters.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah did not want to draw Lebanon into a war with Israel, but added that there was a fear that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might miscalculate before the Israeli elections in April and do something rash.

Nasrallah also warned Israel against continuing strikes in Syria targeting Iranian positions, saying it could fuel war in the region.

"At any moment the Syrian leadership and the axis of resistance can take a decision to deal with the Israeli aggression in a different manner," Nasrallah said, referring to the alliance between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

Israel has said its strikes have targeted mainly facilities belonging to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force.

Earlier this month, Israel concluded its operation to unearth and destroy the tunnels that the army accused Hezbollah of digging across the border from Lebanon, AFP reported.

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 says it has found all 'Hezbollah cross-border tunnels' from Lebanon
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Israel's army said on 13 January 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 give 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.

UN Security Council resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, said both sides must stick to their side of the border and that the group must leave the area around the frontier.