Lebanon's army intelligence has detained a man on suspicion that he crossed into Lebanon from Israel, a military official said Thursday, two days after Israel discovered a possible breach in the tightly controlled frontier, where no one is allowed to cross. Lebanon's state news agency said the detainee is a US citizen.
The Al-Manar TV station, which is seen as a mouthpiece for the Hezbollah terror group, said that the man was a Jewish American national and released an image it said was him.
Hezbollah said that it had "identified an anonymous figure east of the village of Aita al-Shaab, near the border, and when they asked him who he was, he threw his belongings down and fled. It is fair to assume that he was a settler (Israeli) who crossed the border."
Israel became suspicious that someone had crossed the tightly guarded border — known as the Blue Line— on Tuesday night, when Israel Defense Forces troops spotted a tear in the security fence along the northern frontier.
"Israeli army troops identified a break in the fence and signs that point to the suspicion of a person crossing the border from Israel into Lebanon," the IDF said. "The incident is under investigation."
Israel reported the suspected crossing to UN forces (UNIFIL) that are stationed in the area, and then on to the Lebanese army. There have been several similar cases in recent years, most involving people suffering from mental illness.
Almost all of the 135 kilometers of the border between Israel and Lebanon, which begins Rosh Hanikra in the west and ends on the slopes of Mt. Hermon, are open to hikers and farmers right up to a perimeter fence, which then allows quick access to the border itself. Lebanon and Israel are in a state of war and each bans its citizens from visiting the other country.
The military official, who spoke Thursday on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, gave no further details saying the man is being questioned and once they have information the army will release a statement.
State-run National News Agency said the man who was detained is a US citizen adding that he was detained in the southern port-city of Tyre where he had been staying since Tuesday. It added that the man is being questioned under the supervision of judicial authorities.
The US Embassy said in a statement: "We've seen media reports of the arrest of a US citizen. We take our obligation to assist US citizens abroad seriously and stand ready to provide all appropriate consular services."
It added that due to privacy considerations, "we have no further comment."
The breach did not occur in the area where IDF troops have been searching for cross-border attack tunnels dug by Hezbollah.
Israel on Sunday announced the end of its six-week operation to locate and destroy the tunnels. The army said it would begin work on the construction of a defensive barrier along the border once all the tunnels - six in total - had been destroyed.
Yoav Zitun contributed to this report