U.N. says Israel did not violate border in clash with Lebanon

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire on the border Tuesday in the most serious clashes since a fierce war four years ago. The violence apparently erupted over a move by Israeli soldiers to cut down a tree along a dividing fence. (Aug. 3)
By Janine Zacharia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 4, 2010; 2:19 PM

JERUSALEM -- A day after Israeli and Lebanese forces exchanged gunfire in a clash that left four dead, the commander of the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon invited officers from both sides for an unusual three-way meeting in a bid to avert an expansion of hostilities.

The group was scheduled to meet late Wednesday. Earlier in the day, the U.N. force confirmed that Israeli troops were operating inside Israeli territory when fighting erupted, dismissing Lebanon's allegation that Israeli troops had crossed onto Lebanese soil.

Hostilities began Tuesday as Israeli troops worked to cut down a tree along the border in an area similar to where Israeli troops were ambushed by militants from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah in 2006. That attack prompted a month-long rocket war.

In Tuesday's incident, Lebanese troops fired at the Israeli forces and Israeli troops returned fire in combat that lasted about an hour. Two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese reporter and an Israeli reservist officer were killed. Israeli troops finished cutting down the tree Wednesday.

A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force known as UNIFIL said it expected Israel and Lebanon at the three-way meeting to "renew their commitment" to a "cessation of hostilities."

Tuesday's events shattered a calm that had prevailed over the border area since the 2006 war and added to tensions that had been building between Israel and Lebanon in recent weeks.

(More on Israeli-Lebanese tensions)

Lebanon has been gripped in recent days by arrests of people accused of spying for Israel, including a retired army colonel Wednesday. The border incident also came during a week in which Israel found itself under fire on multiple fronts.

Besides the flare-up on the northern border, rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip. One landed in the nearby city of Ashkelon, and another slammed through the roof of a building on an Israeli college campus. Israel retaliated by striking at targets inside Gaza.

On Monday, a barrage of rockets was fired from Egypt's Sinai desert toward the southern Israeli Red Sea resort town of Eilat. Some of the rockets landed in the neighboring Jordanian town of Aqaba where one Jordanian was killed.

Israeli officials said Wednesday that it remained unclear who was behind the rocket fire from the Sinai.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also on Wednesday expressed displeasure that the international community had not condemned the Lebanese army's action.

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