LEBANESE AND ISRAELI TROOPS CLASH

Israel detonated four unexploded bombs near the Blue Line on Monday [AFP]

An Israeli army patrol has returned fire at Lebanese troops after they shot at an Israeli military bulldozer near the border between the two countries.

A Lebanese army spokesman said the bulldozer, which was searching for explosive devices, had crossed into southern Lebanon but Israel insisted the bulldozer was on the Israeli side of the border.

The Lebanese army spokesman said: “An Israeli army bulldozer crossed into south Lebanon tonight. Our forces opened fire at it. It pulled back and there was a brief exchange of fire.”

An Israeli source said: “We called for them to stop firing, they shot at us and we returned fire.”
David Chater, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in northern Israel, said that two Israeli bulldozers had crossed a security fence but that they had “stayed within the internationally recognised border of Israel”.

He said a tank accompanying the bulldozers had fired two shells at the Lebanese position after the bulldozer came under fire but no casualties were reported.

A spokesman for Unifil, the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, said: “We characterise this as a serious incident … The Unifil commander … was in contact with both sides urging them to cease hostilities and our current information is that around 10.30pm [2030 GMT] there was an end to the firing, but right now Unifil troops are deployed in the area.”

A spokesman for the Israeli military said the team was clearing an area in which four unexploded bombs, planted by Hezbollah, had been found on Monday on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, the border that was marked out by the UN after the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon in 2000.

Lebanese security sources told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that the army had been put on high alert and was ready to stop any Israeli incursion should it cross into Lebanese territory.
The Lebanese army said a state of emergency had been declared in the border village of Maroun al-Ras.Show of strengthHezbollah has said the bombs that were detonated by the Israelis on Monday were planted before the war in southern Lebanon last summer as a defensive measure.
The security situation has been escalating in the area over the last couple of days following the testimony of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, before the commission investigating last year’s war.
Olmert said one of the successes of the Israeli offensive was to drive Hezbollah forces away from the border.
Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Lebanon, says that, subsequently, Hezbollah flags and signs can be seen frequently in the area as a demonstration that they still have a strong presence and support in the border area.
On Wednesday Amir Peretz, the Israeli defence minister, accused Syria of allowing the rearmament of Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and said Israel has the right to act “forcefully” against the group to counter the threat.
The Israeli army says that the bombs detonated on Monday contravened UN resolution 1701, passed to resolve the conflict last year.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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