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Clashes at tense Israel-Lebanon border leave at least 4 dead

ADAYSSEH, Lebanon - Agence France-Presse | 8/3/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire along their tense border in a fierce skirmish that left three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist dead, army and security officials said.

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire Tuesday along their tense border in a fierce skirmish which left three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist dead, army and security officials said.

A Lebanese security official said at least one Israeli soldier was seriously wounded in the clashes which were apparently sparked when Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree on the Lebanese side of the fenced border.

Lebanon's Hezbollah TV, Al Manar, reported that one Israeli top officer had been killed but there was no immediate confirmation from the Lebanese army or UN troops stationed in southern Lebanon.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri immediately slammed Israel's "aggression" against their country. Hariri condemned 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 his 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 in a statement.

Tuesday's clashes marked the deadliest incident along the border since the devastating 2006 war between the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and Israel. A security official in the area told AFP that 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 in the exchange.

The Israeli army in a statement said however IDF forces were carrying out work inside Israeli territory between the security fence and the international border when they were fired upon. An Israeli military source earlier confirmed that clashes had erupted, saying there was an exchange of fire between Israeli troops and Lebanese forces near kibbutz Misgav Am, which lies just across the border from Adaysseh.

Security officials gave varying accounts of the toll from the firefight. "Three Lebanese soldiers were killed in the clashes today, one journalist was killed and one civilian was wounded," said one security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "We also have reports of one Israeli soldier severely wounded."

Another security official said several Israeli soldiers had been wounded and that Israel was using loudspeakers calling in Arabic for a ceasefire in order to remove casualties. Al Manar television said one of its correspondents had also been lightly wounded.

A Lebanese army spokesman said the clashes erupted after Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree 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 the Indonesian contingent serving with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon tried to no avail to calm the situation before the clashes erupted.

Ambulances rushed to the village as residents panicked with many fleeing. The Israeli army apparently tried to uproot the large tree with a tractor from their side of the border as it blocked their view.

The U.N. force stationed in southern Lebanon urged "maximum restraint" following the clashes along the so-called blue line, a U.N.-drawn border separating Lebanon from Israel. "Our immediate priority at this time is to restore calm in the area," Neeraj Singh, spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, told AFP.

"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." He said UNIFIL peacekeepers were in the area where the clashes took place "trying to ascertain the circumstances of the incident and any possible casualties." Adaysseh is located about 30 kilometers east of the coastal city of Tyre.



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