Four killed as Israel, Lebanon exchange fire (Second lead)

August 4th, 2010 - 12:56 am ICT by IANS  

Tel Aviv/Beirut, Aug 3 (DPA) Tensions boiled over along the flashpoint Israel-Lebanese border Tuesday, as both armies exchanged fire, causing fatalities on both sides, in the most serious clash since Israel and Hezbollah guerillas fought a bitter war in 2006.
A Lebanese security official said at least two Lebanese soldiers were killed and several others wounded, some of them seriously. A Lebanese journalist, working for the al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to the Hezbollah organisation, was also reported killed.

An Israeli lieutenant colonel in the reserves, a battalion commander, was also killed, the Israeli military confirmed late Tuesday.

Another Israeli soldier, a captain in the reserves, was critically wounded.

The flare-up is regarded as unusual in that the Israeli troops traded fire with the Lebanese army, instead of with gunmen from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has a strong presence in the area.

Calm appeared to have returned to the area after four hours, with troops from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) patrolling the area and civilians who fled the village at the centre of the violence starting to return.

Israel was also urging residents of towns and villages close to the border to continue with their daily routines, and not to enter bomb shelters in expectation of missiles from north of the border.

A Lebanese army statement said that an Israeli patrol crossed the so-called blue line near the Lebanese border at the outskirts of the village of Adissyeh “despite the intervention by the UN troops in the area.”

“After the Israeli patrol refused to comply with the UN and the Lebanese army warnings, our troops confronted the infiltrating patrol with rocket propelled grenades and the clash erupted,” the statement said.

However, the Israel military said the Israelis were inside Israeli territory when they were fired on, in an area between the border fence and the blue-line which delineates the actual border.

The troops were carrying out routine maintenance, and military spokeswoman Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich told reporters they were operating in coordination with UNIFIL.

Major-General Gadi Eizencott, the head of the Israeli army’s northern command, accused the Lebanese army of staging a “well-planned ambush” including the use of snipers and Lt. Col Leibovich called the incident “a clear provocation” on the part of the Lebanese.

Other Lebanese officials said an Israeli tank fired a shell towards a house in the southern Lebanon border village of Adyisseh, prompting the Lebanese army to return fire.

A Lebanese army source told DPA that 10 Israeli artillery shells fell near an army post in Adissyeh.

Both Israel and Lebanon accused the other of violating UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire to the 2006 war, and both sides said they lodge complaints with the UN.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is on vacation in Italy, slammed Israel’s “aggression” against his country and condemned the “violation of Lebanese sovereignty and demands … the United Nations and the international community bear their responsibilities and pressure Israel to stop its aggression,” a statement from his office said.

A Lebanese government official told DPA that Beirut Lebanon will call for a UN Security Council emergency session to discuss the clash.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry, for its part, said in a statement that Israel views the clash as a “clear violation” of Resolution 1702.

Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the incident, the statement said, and warned of the consequences.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has also instructed Israel’s UN representative to lodge a formal complaint on the matter with Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and with the Security Council, the statement, issued a few hours after the clash, said.

The incident coincides with a major speech expected later Tuesday by Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah organisation, whose men fought a bitter 33-day war with Israel in July and August 2006.

It also comes a day after unknown militants fired six rockets, most probably from the Sinai peninsula, toward the Israeli Red Sea port city of Eilat. One of the rockets landed in the neighbouring Jordanian city of Aqaba, killing one Jordanian.

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