4 killed as Israeli, Lebanese armies exchange fire
Tensions boiled over Tuesday along the Israel-Lebanese border as both armies exchanged fire, leaving at least two Lebanese troops and one Israeli soldier dead in the most serious clash since Israel and Hezbollah guerillas fought in 2006, dpa reported.
A Lebanese journalist, working for al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to the Hezbollah organization, was also killed.
Five more Lebanese soldiers were badly wounded, two of them seriously, and an Israeli reserve captain was critically wounded.
The flare-up was unusual with Israeli troops trading fire with the Lebanese Army, instead of with gunmen from the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, which has a strong presence in the area.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah late Tuesday described the lethal border clash as "heroic."
"This time we stood and watched, ... but next we will not," he warned.
The group Reporters Without Borders confirmed late Tuesday that Assaf Abu Rahal, who worked for the daily al-Akhbar, was killed, and Ali Chouayb of al-Manar TV was wounded in the clashes.
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.
UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh said that peacekeepers were "focused on restoring calm in the area."
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.
Israel and Lebanon accused each other of violating UN Security Council resolution 1701, which brokered a ceasefire to the 2006 war, and both sides said they were lodging complaints with the United Nations.
The Lebanese Higher Defence Council discussed the border clash and gave the order to confront any attack against Lebanon.
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." He called for "the United Nations and the international community bear their responsibilities and pressure Israel to stop its aggression," a statement from his office said.
The Israeli Foreign Ministry 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 consequences "should the violations continue."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has instructed Israel's UN ambassador to lodge a formal complaint on the matter with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.
The 15-country Security Council held a closed meeting later Tuesday to discuss the border clash, with members calling "for utmost restraint" and for both sides to abide by UN resolution 1701, said Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, the council's president for August.
"UNIFIL took immediate steps through contacts with the parties and the presence of the Acting Force Commander alongside peacekeepers at the location to help restore calm in the area," Ban's spokesman said late Tuesday in at UN headquarters in New York. "As reported to the Security Council today, UNIFIL intends to investigate the circumstances which led to this exchange of fire."
Ban called Tuesday's fighting "the most serious incident" between the Israeli and Lebanese armed forces since resolution 1701 was adopted in 2006.
The United States is "extremely concerned" and supports an investigation into the incident, State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said in Washington.
"We deeply regret the loss of life," he said. "We urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid an escalation and maintain the ceasefire that is now in place."
In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton urged both Israel and Lebanon to take steps to prevent further violence or escalation of tensions. She also endorsed a prompt and thorough probe of the incident.