Lebanon Denounces Claim It Provoked Deadly Clash in North

Spokesman for the Lebanese Army said Lebanese soldiers called out to the Israeli troops to cease their actions and fired warning shots in the air.

Lebanese officials rejected Israeli claims yesterday that a Lebanese soldier shot at an Israeli force at the border in an effort to provoke a firefight.

IDF soldiers taking positions against Lebanese forces at Kibbutz Misgav Am on Israel’s northern border, August 2010.
Yaron Kaminsky

The sources said the Israel Defense Forces had twice requested permission from UNIFIL to operate in the area, but was turned down by the Lebanese Army, which considered the request a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 that ended the Second Lebanon War. The Lebanese officials said the Israeli request constituted a violation of Lebanese sovereignty.

The Lebanese version also maintains that Israel "arrogantly" disregarded the Lebanese refusal and acted unilaterally, putting troops in the area and cutting down a large tree on the Lebanese side of the fence to set up a camera.

A spokesman for the Lebanese Army said Lebanese soldiers called out to the Israeli troops to cease their actions and fired warning shots in the air, but the Israelis responded by targeting the Lebanese position. At that point the Lebanese soldiers fired at the Israelis.

The Lebanese also say the IDF fired artillery rounds, and that an Apache attack helicopter fired at a Lebanese armored carrier, killing three soldiers. The sources also said a Lebanese journalist for the daily Al-Ahbar, Asaf Abu Rihal, a 55-year-old father of three, was killed.

The Lebanese said the Israeli shelling hit two houses in the village of Adeisa and reported a number of injuries among civilians, who were taken to nearby hospitals.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said his Islamist militia would not stand aside if Israel attacked the Lebanese Army in the future.

"I say honestly, that in any place where the Lebanese Army will be assaulted and there's a presence for the resistance, and it is capable, the resistance will not stand silent, or quiet or restrained," Nasrallah told tens of thousands of supporters via video link. He was speaking to mark the fourth anniversary of the Second Lebanon War, just hours after the cross-border skirmish yesterday.

Nasrallah said his group was in touch with the Lebanese Army and was at the ready if they needed to be called in.

"I was personally in contact with the [Hezbollah] commanders in the area, and I asked them not to act before receiving a direct order. We announced that we would not initiate any activity as long as we did not receive authorization from the highest command of the Lebanese Army. We contacted the army's commander and explained that we were ready to take action if they ask us to. We did what was needed in order to protect our sacred land," he said.

After the incident, senior Lebanese officers arrived at the scene and were briefed. The officers report directly to the Lebanese chief of staff and the senior political leadership including President Michel Suleiman and Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who is abroad.

UNIFIL peacekeepers also arrived in an effort to avert an escalation. The United Nations held intensive discussions with both sides after the clash.

The fact that the incident involved Lebanese Army troops and not Hezbollah or any other militia force has helped unify the Lebanese; all radio stations, regardless of political affiliation, have supported the army and its commanders.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, former Lebanese president and chief of staff Emile Lahoud said the Lebanese Army today is different and its soldiers cannot accept a blatant violation by Israel. Lahoud said the soldiers acted in the spirit of the responsibility they felt for Lebanese sovereignty and security, knowing full well that the Lebanese nation and the Arab world supported them.