Israel fires on Lebanon in retaliation for soldier killing
Published Monday 16/12/2013 (updated) 16/12/2013 20:44
Israeli soldiers control access to one of the roads near Rosh Hanikra
on the Israeli-Lebanese border on December 16, 2013.
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- The Israeli army said Monday it fired across the Lebanese border in retaliation after accusing Lebanese troops of gunning down one of its soldiers as he drove near the frontier.
The shooting was the first time an Israeli soldier had been killed along the border with Lebanon in more than three years, although commentators said it was unlikely to spark a confrontation.
The Israeli army said the soldier was shot by Lebanese troops as he was driving a civilian vehicle along a section of the border close to the Mediterranean coast.
"After the incident, we reached the area to conduct searches as part of the investigation, and saw two suspects on the other side of the border," army spokesman Major Arye Shalicar told AFP.
Troops opened fire and hit at least one of them.
"We shot at them, and saw we hit at least one. We think they were Lebanese soldiers... involved in the shooting of the soldier," said Shalicar.
The Israeli army immediately filed a protest with the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL over what it said was an "outrageous breach of Israel's sovereignty" saying it had "heightened its state of preparedness" and would maintain its "right to exercise self-defense".
The army named the soldier as 31-year-old Master Sergeant Shlomi Cohen and said he was killed while driving near the Rosh Hanikra coastal border crossing.
"We understand there were six to seven rounds fired at him," Shalicar explained saying it was not yet clear whether it was the work of a sniper.
There was no official reaction from the Lebanese army to the incident, although it issued a statement on Monday saying an Israeli drone had violated Lebanese airspace in the same area.
"At 10:15 pm (2015 GMT) yesterday, a drone belonging to the Israeli enemy violated Lebanese airspace over Naqoura, and performed a fly-over of the southern area, then left at 12:40 am," it said.
Lebanon's National News Agency reported late on Sunday that troops had opened fire at "an Israeli army unit" near the Naqoura border post.
But a security official denied soldiers had opened fire.
"The sound of gunfire was heard near the area of Ras al-Naqoura, and the army is trying to find out what happened," he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
UN peacekeepers call for restraint
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tinenti confirmed the force was aware of a "serious" border incident and was trying to establish the facts.
"The situation is ongoing and the UNIFIL force commander is in contact with counterparts, urging restraint," he told AFP.
The National News Agency said there would be a joint meeting between UNIFIL and representatives of the Lebanese and Israeli armies on Monday to discuss the shooting and other border "violations".
While there have been sporadic exchanges of fire along the Israel-Syria ceasefire line in the Golan Heights due to the ongoing civil war in Syria, Israel's border with Lebanon has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Lebanon's Hezbollah.
The last time a soldier was killed there was in August 2010, in an incident in which two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist also died.
Four days ago, the Israeli army said shots were fired across the frontier by what it called Lebanese "hunters" but there were no injuries.
And in August, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosion some 400 meters inside Lebanese territory, in a blast claimed by Hezbollah.
Last week, Hezbollah said Hassan Hawlo al-Lakiss, one of its top leaders, was killed near Beirut, blaming the killing on Israel.
But Israel dismissed the accusation and warned the Shiite movement against any attempt to strike its territory.
UNIFIL troops were deployed along the border following the 34-day war in 2006 which killed some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.