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Lebanese troops, Israeli officer killed in border clash

International Desk |
Update: 2010-08-04 01:25:59
Lebanese troops, Israeli officer killed in border clash

ADAYSSEH: Lebanese and Israeli troops traded deadly fire on their tense border Tuesday in the worst clash since the 2006 war between the Jewish state and Hezbollah, with the Shiite movement`s leader warning against future Israeli "aggression."

Two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and a senior Israeli officer were killed in the fighting.

Each side blamed the other for sparking the incident, which Lebanon said wounded 15 people. The Lebanese army acknowledged that it had fired first.

The United States, the United Nations and the European Union urged restraint on both sides.

Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah called on his followers not to react but said the group would not stand idly by in the future.

"We told our militants to hold back, not to do anything," he said in a speech transmitted by video link to thousands of supporters massed in Hezbollah`s stronghold in Beirut`s southern suburbs.

"From now on, if the army is attacked in any area where the resistance (Hezbollah) has a presence or a say, we will not stand by idly.

"We will cut off the Israeli hand that reaches out to (attack) the Lebanese army."

Tension in the region has been mounting in recent months following reports Hezbollah was stockpiling weapons in preparation for a new war.

The army said troops opened fire on the Israelis after a patrol crossed the technical fence at the border.

"The patrol did not stop despite UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) attempts to stop it, and the Lebanese army confronted the troops with gunfire and RPGs," an army statement said.

A spokesman said the Israelis were attempting to uproot trees on the Lebanese side that were obstructing their view.

The clashes began at around noon (0900 GMT) near the village of Adaysseh and continued intermittently over about four hours.

Two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed, Lebanese officials said.

An Israeli lieutenant colonel was killed and a captain critically wounded, Israeli officials said.

Lebanon said it would file a complaint with the UN Security council, whose members met for private consultations on the incident.

Afterwards, the council expressed "deep concern" and urged the parties to show "utmost restraint ... observe the cessation of hostilities and prevent any further escalation."

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, who is on a visit to Japan, said through his spokesman Martin Nesirky that he was "deeply concerned" at the incident.

"The Secretary General urges the parties to exercise maximum restraint" and work with the UN in taking steps to consolidate the calm now restored in the area, the spokesman added.

Meanwhile, General Said Eid, chief of Lebanon`s top defence council, said following an emergency meeting that the council had "given instructions to face all aggression on our territory, army and people by all available means and no matter the sacrifices."

Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is on vacation in Italy, called various world leaders to discuss the Israeli "aggression."

Hariri "condemns the violation of Lebanese sovereignty and demands ... the United Nations and the international community bear their responsibilities and pressure Israel to stop its aggression," his office said.

The Israeli foreign ministry responded with equal force.

"Israel sees the government of Lebanon as responsible for this grave incident and warns of the consequences in the event that disturbances of this kind continue," it said.

The Israeli military said the Lebanese army had opened fire on its troops as they were carrying out routine maintenance inside Israeli territory and that the operation was "pre-coordinated with UNIFIL."

The head of Israel`s northern command, Major General Gadi Eisenkot, said his troops had been caught in a "premeditated ambush by a squad of snipers."

The Lebanese army said there had been discussions with UNIFIL in recent days about an Israeli request to remove some trees along the border.

"There was also talk of UNIFIL carrying out this operation but the Israelis insisted on doing it on their own," a spokesman told AFP.

"These trees are on Lebanese territory and we are free to keep them or remove them," he added.

Tuesday`s clashes marked the deadliest incident along the border since the devastating war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Large swathes of southern Lebanon were destroyed in the war, which killed 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley expressed extreme concern over the violence.

"We deeply regret the loss of life. We urge both sides to exercise maximum restraint to avoid an escalation and maintain the ceasefire that is now in place," he said.

"The last thing that we want to see is ... this incident expand into something more significant. And that`s why ... we and others have been in contact throughout the day and are trying to make sure that it goes no further."

In Brussels, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton called on both sides to exercise "utmost restraint."

BDST: 10:25 HRS, August 04, 2010

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