Pro Hezbollah minister demands return of border rail tunnel in a bid that could torpedo Lebanon-Israel talks

ali-Hamiya-minister-of-public-works
file photo of caretaker Minister of public works Ali Hamiya , who represents the Amal Movement (a close ally of the Iran backed Hezbollah militant group) in the current resigned government of PM Najib Mikati
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Caretaker Minister of public works Ali Hamiya , who represents the Amal Movement (a close ally of the Iran backed Hezbollah militant group) in the current resigned government of PM Najib Mikati said yesterday in an interview that the railway tunnel , closed since Israeli occupation of Palestine in 1948, is Lebanon’s sovereign territory, in a move that could torpedo Lebanon-Israel maritime negotiations

“Our sovereign rights lie in our decision to restore every inch of the occupied tunnel, without compromising our decision to restore our land and sea borders as well,” Hamiya said during a visit to the Lebanese side of the border, according to Lebanon Debate website

Dug in 1941 by the British rulers, the 695-meters-long tunnel was part of a rail system that once was part of the Orient Express that linked France to the Suez Canal in Egypt via several European counties , passing through Turkey , Syria, Lebanon and Palestine . It has been closed since 1948. In 2000, when Israel pulled out of southern Lebanon, it filled the Lebanese exit with concrete while the tunnel remained under Israeli control as a closed military zone.

Hamiya who also holds French citizenship demanded that the concrete barrier be pulled down.

Israel’s Kibbutz Rosh Hanikra lies along the border with Lebanon and is very closely located near the tunnel

The Tunnel is called the Naqoura railway Tunnel while Israel refers to it as the Rosh Hanikra railway tunnel 

Hamieh’s comments were seen by Lebanese observers as an effort to torpedo talks between Israel and Lebanon which are aimed at resolving their disputed maritime border

Lebanese authorities have not made any demands about the tunnel for many years, but the subject was previously raised by the Lebanese negotiating team in the maritime talks, according to media reports.

The reports said Hezbollah views the tunnel as a way of controlling the negotiations. However, political opponents to Hezbollah in Beirut are warning that the demand could complicate the maritime border talks.

The Rail transport in Lebanon began in the 1890s as a  French projects under the Ottoman Empire but largely ceased in the 1970s owing to the country’s civil war. The last remaining routes ended for economic reasons in the 1990s. At its peak Lebanon had about 408 kilometers (254 mi) of railway.

The line suffered a serious accident at Aley on 12 April 1904. Aley had grown with the railroad and functioned as a summer resort for the people of Beirut. Part of the locomotive exploded on the 7% incline east of town and, not thinking to apply the brakes, the train was allowed to fly back through the station. Two cars were completely destroyed upon the rocks on the other side, killing 8 and seriously injuring 21.

During the First World War, the Ottoman Empire seized control of all foreign-owned railways in the country, including the line that extended to Palestine and the Suez Canal.

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