Lebanese herders, Israeli military row over cows grazing near border

A shepherd herds cows in the village of Wazzani, near the Lebanese-Israeli border in southern Lebanon, Jan 25, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

BEIRUT - The Israeli military said on Tuesday (Jan 26) cows which crossed from Lebanon would be returned, after cattle herders from a Lebanese border village accused Israeli soldiers of taking the animals which have grazed freely near the disputed frontier for decades.

Lebanon and Israel are in a formal state of war and have long contested their land and maritime borders.

The herders from the village of Wazzani say Israeli patrols crossed into a grey zone on Sunday (Jan 24) between a fence that separates the countries and the ‘Blue Line’ that constitutes the United Nations-designated frontier, taking seven cows.

A general view shows the Lebanese-Israeli border as seen from the village of Mays Al-Jabal, in southern Lebanon, Jan 25, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

“For 20 years and more these cows are there, from the time of our grandparents, and this is the first time that someone has taken them,” said villager Kamal al-Ahmad, who said he lost three cows.

A Lebanese villager, Kamal al-Ahmad, who claims that Israeli soldiers took cows he owned, is pictured in the village of Wazzani, near the Lebanese-Israeli border in southern Lebanon, Jan 25, 2021. 
PHOTO: Reuters

The Israeli military spokesman’s office said the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) had not taken the cows. It said a few cows had crossed the fence and the Blue Line from Lebanese territory during “IDF activity”, after which the gate was locked.

“The cows, which are still in Israeli territory, will be returned in accordance with the relevant authorities,” it said in a statement.

A cow is worth around $2,000 (S$2,700) and the loss of an animal is significant for farmers living through Lebanon’s financial crisis. “God help these people, this is their livelihood,” said Ahmad al-Mohammed, head of the Wazzani municipality.

Farmers workd in a field in the village of Wazzani, near the Lebanese-Israeli border in southern Lebanon, Jan 25, 2021.
PHOTO: Reuters

The area near a river where the Wazzani cows graze is only around 200 metres from Israel.

The two countries have been locked in a dispute over a border wall Israel started building in 2018 and over an area of sea on the edge of three Lebanese offshore energy blocks.

“We are aware of the alleged incident and we are in touch with both parties in relation to this issue,” the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said.

A UN peacekeeping force monitors the boundary since Israel’s military withdrew from south Lebanon in 2000, ending a 22-year occupation.

In Mais al-Jabal, another border village, teenager Hussein Chartouni complained last month that one of his chickens had wandered behind the border barbed wire and was snatched and never returned.

“I want my chicken,” he told Reuters on Monday, using a phrase that has become a hashtag on Twitter.

Hussein Chartouni, who claims that Israeli soldiers took the chicken he owned, is pictured at Mays Al-Jabal village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border in southern Lebanon, Jan 25, 2021. PHOTO: Reuters