The UN called for "maximum restraint" a day after four people died in clashes that followed Lebanon's accusations that Israeli troops had crossed its border to uproot trees. The UN on Wednesday confirmed that the trees were on Israeli soil.
The Israeli army returned to a tense area on its border with Lebanon on Wednesday to complete a tree-pruning operation that sparked deadly clashes between Israeli and Lebanese troops a day earlier.
A senior Israeli military officer, two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist were killed in fighting between the two nations’ armies on Tuesday, the worst violence between the two countries since the 2006 war with Hezbollah.
The skirmish broke out after Lebanon's military said Israeli soldiers had crossed the border fence to uproot a tree. Israel denied the claim saying the tree was on the Israeli side of the border. The UN on Wednesday confirmed Israel's claims.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened his security cabinet on Wednesday as both sides prepared to bury their dead. He said after the clashes that Israel would "respond aggressively" to any future attempt "to disrupt the calm along the northern border".
The fighting has raised the spectre of a fresh conflict in the volatile region, with Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warning that the Shiite movement would not “stand by idly" if Israeli troops attack Lebanese forces again.
Addressing a huge large gathering of supporters in the Hezbollah-controlled southern suburbs of Beirut via a video link Tuesday night, Nasrallah said he had called on his followers not to act.
But, Nasrallah warned, "From now on, if the [Lebanese] army is attacked in any area where the resistance [Hezbollah] has a presence or a say, we will not stand by idly.”
UN urges 'maximum restraint'
Hours after the clashes, the UN Security Council held closed-door consultations on the incident following a Lebanese government request. Lebanon is one of the council’s 15 members.
Reading a statement on behalf of the council, Russia's UN envoy said the council’s 15 members expressed "deep concern" and urged the parties to “observe the cessation of hostilities and prevent any further escalation."
The UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) confirmed Wednesday that the trees being cut are on the Israeli side of the border.
In Washington, US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told reporters the US was “extremely concerned” and called on both sides to exercise “maximum restraint”.
Conflicting accounts of border fighting
Israel and Lebanon have provided conflicting accounts of what happened Tuesday morning along the tense border.
Lebanese military officials said Israeli troops attempted to cut down a tree inside Lebanon territory. The Lebanese army then fired warning shots at them and the Israelis responded by shelling a Lebanese army position in the southern Lebanese village of Adaisseh. The Lebanese army then fired back.
In a statement released Tuesday, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Israeli troops had crossed the UN-drawn Blue Line boundary separating the two countries and fired on a Lebanese army checkpoint in Adeisseh.
Suleiman also denounced the fighting and said the shelling was a violation of UN resolution 1701, which ended the 2006 conflict between Israel and Hezbollah and calls for both Israel and Lebanon to respect the Blue Line.
Israeli military officials, however, said the Lebanese Army fired at Israeli forces along the country’s northern border while Israeli troops were carrying out “routine maintenance”.
"The soldiers were on routine activity in Israeli territory, in an area that lies between the Blue Line and the security fence, thus within Israeli territory," the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) said in a statement.
Tensions have been mounting in the region in recent weeks, with Israeli officials accusing Syria of supplying Hezbollah with Scud missiles capable of hitting anywhere in Israel. Hezbollah has refused to either confirm or deny the charges.
“There are growing signs that both sides have been preparing for conflict,” said FRANCE 24’s Lucy Fielder, reporting from Beirut. “Hezbollah for one has made no secret of the fact that it is rearming. So many people here are watching this very anxiously.”
Tensions peaked last week when Nasrallah announced that a UN tribunal was set to indict Hezbollah members for the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
According to Fielder, Nasrallah’s comments raised “widespread fears that it could lead to sectarian tensions within Lebanon and perhaps also a conflict with Israel because Nasrallah also alleges that the tribunal was derailed by an Israeli plot.”
Referring to reports of a likely indictment of Hezbollah members in the Hariri investigations, Israeli spokesman Pazner told FRANCE 24 that “apparently Hezbollah is going to take the blame for it and there is a lot of tension in Lebanon. Apparently they wanted to draw the attention somewhere else and the ideal victim is Israel.”
In his speech Tuesday night, Nasrallah accused Israel of Hariri’s assassination and said he would reveal details about Israel's alleged role in the assassination at a news conference next week.
Date created : 2010-08-04