Israeli, Lebanese troops engage in rare cross-border skirmish
Israeli and Lebanese troops had a rare cross-border skirmish that killed 5.
Adaisseh (Lebanon): Israeli and Lebanese troops fought in a rare cross-border skirmish on Tuesday that killed three Lebanese and a senior Israeli officer in the most serious violence along the frontier since a 2006 war.
The Iranian-and Syrian-backed Hezbollah group, which battled Israel four years ago, took no part in the exchange of fire.
He said Israel had used loudspeakers calling in Arabic for a ceasefire in order to remove casualties.
Four hours after the clashes began at around noon (0900 GMT), the area was reported to be quiet.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman convened an emergency meeting of his top defence officials, while Prime Minister Saad Hariri slammed Israel`s "aggression."
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 Hariri`s 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.
Israel`s military too blamed the Lebanese army for the deadly clashes.
"Full responsibility for the incident and its consequences lies with the Lebanese army which disrupted the calm in the area," the military said in a statement in which it acknowledge for the first time that its troops had returned fire with light arms and artillery fire.
"During the afternoon, the Lebanese army opened fire towards an IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) position along the Lebanese border in northern Israel. The force was in Israeli territory, carrying out routine maintenance and was pre-coordinated with UNIFIL," it said, referring to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon.
Tuesday`s clashes marked the deadliest incident along the border since the devastating 2006 war between the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Israel.
Hezbollah took no part in Tuesday`s fighting, which erupted in its stronghold.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah was expected to address the incident in an already scheduled and highly anticipated speech on Tuesday night.
A Lebanese security official in the area told AFP the Israeli troops had opened fire first.
"The Israelis fired four shells (from a tank) that fell near a Lebanese army position on the outskirts of the village of Adaysseh and the Lebanese army fired back," the official said, adding that two houses were damaged.
A Lebanese army spokesman said the clashes erupted after Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree, which blocked their view, with a large crane on the Lebanese side of the fenced border.
"The Israelis began to fire and we responded," he said.
An AFP correspondent in Adaysseh said soldiers from UNIFIL`s Indonesian contingent tried to no avail to calm the situation before the clashes erupted.
Ambulances rushed to the village as residents panicked with many fleeing.
The UN force urged "maximum restraint" following the clashes along the so-called blue line, a UN-drawn border.
"Our immediate priority at this time is to restore calm in the area," UNIFIL spokesman Neeraj Singh told agency.
"Acting force commander Brigadier General Santi Bonfanti is in contact with the command of both the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israeli Defence Forces urging maximum restraint."
Syria condemned what it said was Israel`s "heinous aggression."
"President Bashar al-Assad on Tuesday telephoned Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and expressed Syria`s support for Lebanon against the heinous aggression launched by Israel on Lebanon," state news agency SANA reported.
"President Assad considers that this aggression proves once more that Israel has always been seeking to destabilise security and stability in Lebanon and the region," SANA said.
Adaysseh is located about 30 kilometres (19 miles) east of the coastal city of Tyre.
Abu Ali, a resident of Adaysseh, said Israeli helicopters could be seen overflying the village some two hours after the incident which erupted shortly after noon (0900 GMT).
Large swathes of southern Lebanon were destroyed in 2006 following the war between Hezbollah and Israel which killed 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
Tension in the region has been mounting in recent months following reports that Hezbollah was stockpiling weapons in preparation for a new war.