The civilian population residing in the farming settlement of Metula, situated near the Lebanon border, continues to suffer from property damage and threats to their lives and safety due to unchecked mine clearance efforts on the other side of the border.
Mines Advisory Group Co. (MAG), an NGO that provides humanitarian assistance to people affected by landmines and unexploded ordnance, has deployed mine disposal units that for the past year and a half were tasked with removing mines placed by the IDF ahead of the Israeli pullout from Southern Lebanon in 2000.
However, Metula locals and the town mayor allege that the teams are detonating mines in close proximity to the border fence and residential areas without providing any prior notice or implementing necessary safety measures. Moreover, the loud explosions and airborne debris have not only alarmed and terrified local Metula residents, but also tourists visiting the area and trekkers exploring the nearby Nahal Eyon nature reserve.
"We receive an estimated time of detonation, but there’s no warning before the actual explosion, and it startles everyone," the town's security coordinator told Ynet last month. "The residents are informed about the situation, but it’s distressing nonetheless.”
These actions, they argue, violate international conventions and contradict the group's own mission of ridding the world of landmines and protecting civilians in conflict zones.
The group was hired by the Lebanese government to clear mines near Metula while the UNIFIL peacekeeping force is tasked with clearing mines in other areas across Southern Lebanon. Some Israeli residents argue that the Lebanese government is working under the instruction of the Hezbollah terrorist organization, which conducts military drills to prepare for a potential incursion into Israeli territory.
Town officials assert that UNIFIL is obliged to oversee the operation and conduct the mine clearance responsibly. Meanwhile, the IDF faces challenges in addressing the situation, partly due to a lack of cooperation from the Lebanese side.
A UNIFIL spokesperson told Ynet that the Lebanese operation is conducted in coordination with the IDF, and they were not aware of any complaints. The spokesperson added that all complaints would be investigated and addressed appropriately in cooperation with the military.
Local residents have reached out to the UNIFIL peacekeeping forces stationed in the area, seeking their assistance and collaboration to guarantee safer mine clearance operations that adhere to the established safety procedures used in Israel. The UNIFIL commander recently held a meeting with Metula Mayor David Azulai. However, he was unable to provide definitive answers and apologized for his inability to influence the behavior of MAG's mine clearance personnel.
A spokesperson on behalf of the humanitarian group declined to comment on the allegations.