Lebanese troops fire on Israeli planes

(Guardian) - Lebanese troops today fired on Israeli warplanes flying low over southern Lebanon, security officials in the country said.

Israeli warplanes frequently fly over Lebanese airspace in what Israel claims are reconnaissance missions.

However, this was the first time the Lebanese army had fired on the aircraft since a ceasefire, agreed on August 14 last year, ended a month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah fighters.

Lebanese soldiers used machine guns and light anti-aircraft weapons, mounted on armoured vehicles, to fire on two planes that flew just east of the town of Marjayoun, a Lebanese official said.

The official added that a total of 150 rounds were fired, but no hits were reported.

A senior military officer also confirmed that the army "confronted" Israeli planes, but there has been no formal announcement from the military command.

It was the first time since February that the Lebanese army - which was deployed in the south of the country after last year's war along with 13,500 UN troops - had fired on the Israelis.

Israeli flights over Lebanon have been a constant source of tension between the two countries.

Before last year's war, Hizbullah would open fire on Israeli planes, with shrapnel from the anti-aircraft fire falling on Israeli communities across the border.

The deployment of around 15,000 Lebanese troops in the south has not stopped the Israeli flyovers, despite the UN describing them as a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

In June, two Katyusha rockets were fired over the border into Israel, probably by Hizbullah - the first such attacks since the 2006 war.

Seven weeks ago, Syria said it had opened fire on Israeli aircraft after they crossed into Syrian airspace and "dropped ammunition" over the desert.

Israel did not confirm the target in that case, but there was speculation the mission had been intended to stop a shipment of arms for Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon.

The latest incident came as the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today dampened expectations ahead of a forthcoming US-sponsored peace summit.

Mr Olmert is due to meet the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, along with other major players in the region, in Annapolis, in the US, before the end of the year.

"If all goes well, hopefully, we will meet," he told a group of Jewish fundraisers. "[But] Annapolis is not made to be the event for the declaration of peace."

Mr Abbas insisted that the summit must produce substantive results, including a timeline for the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

He also wants talks to address the core issues at the heart of the conflict with Israel - final borders, the status of disputed Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

Meanwhile, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, was today expected to give final approval for a plan to cut electricity to Gaza every time Palestinian militants fired rockets into Israel.

The punishment would begin with short cut-offs of 15 minutes, increasing in length if more rockets fell.

Israel hopes the sanctions will build pressure on militants to halt near-daily rocket attacks on southern Israel. It remained unclear when the sanctions would go into effect.

Despite the Israeli threats, Palestinians today fired two rockets into southern Israel, the military said. No damage or casualties were reported.

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