Deadly battle sparked by trees

2010-08-04 11:32

Adaysseh - Israeli troops on Wednesday uprooted trees along the border with Lebanon, completing an operation interrupted by a deadly gun battle with Lebanese soldiers, an AFP correspondent witnessed.

The troops were seen using a crane that reached over a fence in a disputed border area near the village of Adaysseh and uprooting trees that were then thrown inside Israeli territory.

The same operation on Tuesday sparked a deadly border battle that killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist as well as a senior Israeli officer. The Israelis apparently proceeded with the operation as the trees blocked their view into Lebanon.

Israel's security cabinet meanwhile was meeting in Jerusalem on Wednesday to discuss the fallout from Tuesday's skirmish, the worst clash on the border since a 2006 war between the Jewish state and Lebanon's Hezbollah party.

The ministers were to discuss "the consequences of the attacks for which the Lebanese government is responsible", said a senior Israeli official, who asked not to be named.


"It is evident that the Lebanese government is doubly responsible: the attack against our soldiers occurred when they were on Israeli territory and it is Lebanese soldiers who opened fire and forced us to respond," he added.

Each side blamed the other for sparking the fire fight which stoked fears of an all out conflict.

Israel said its troops were fired upon while conducting maintenance work along the border, and that UN forces had been notified in advance. Lebanon said its troops opened fire after an Israeli patrol crossed the border fence.

The UN force stationed in southern Lebanon issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the trees being cut were located on the Israeli side of the border.

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.

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

Deadliest incident

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

The Lebanese army said there had been discussions with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (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 spokesperson said.

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

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

Tuesday's clashes marked the deadliest incident along the border since a devastating war between Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

Large swathes of southern Lebanon were destroyed in the war, which killed 1 200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The US, the UN and the EU urged the two sides to exercise restraint.

Syria condemned what it said was Israel's "heinous aggression", Iran spoke of a "hysterical assault" and Jordan said it was "deeply concerned".