[The following is JTA’s weekly column of Middle East Briefs for Aug. 3, 2010.]
JERUSALEM (JTA) – An Israeli officer was killed during border clashes between Lebanese and Israeli troops.
Lt. Col. Dov Harari, 45, a father of four, was shot Tuesday afternoon during an exchange of tank and artillery fire on Israel’s northern border. A second Israeli soldier, 30, sustained severe injuries in the same incident, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
The IDF returned fire on the Lebanon army and an Israel Air Force helicopter fired on its battalion command center in Al-Taybeh, damaging several Lebanese armored combat vehicles, according to the IDF.
The soldiers were conducting routine operations in an area that lies between the international recognized border between Israel and Lebanon and the security fence, which is considered Israeli territory, according to an IDF statement. The operation involved trimming bushes that were obstructing the military’s view, according to Haaretz.
The incident was a “provocation by the Lebanese army,” by Lebanese forces, Israeli Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot told reporters.
“It was a planned ambush by a sniper unit,” he said, adding that “We view this fire was a highly grave incident. Our forces responded at once, and immediately after that we resorted to artillery and gunship fire.”
A Lebanese army spokesman told reporters that the gunfire began after Israeli soldiers attempted to dig up a tree on the Lebanese side of the border. He said Israel fired first, according to Ynet.
Lebanon said at least three of its soldiers and a journalist were killed in shelling, according to reports.
Reports that Katyusha rockets were fired into Israel were not verified.
Officials from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon called on the two countries’ armies to exercise “maximum restraint” following the incident.
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman reportedly said his country would “stand up to Israel’s violation of UN Resolution 1701 — whatever the cost.” The resolution led to a cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
Tension has increased between Israel and Lebanon in recent months amid reports that Hezbollah is building weapons supplies in preparation for another war with Israel.
“This recent violation is one of many violations of Resolution 1701, the most severe of which is the massive rearmament of Hezbollah, including the rearmament of Hezbollah units in southern Lebanon.” said a statement issued Tuesday afternoon by Israel’s Foreign Ministry.
“Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for the grave incident, and warns of the consequences should these continue,” the statement added.
The attack came a day after rockets suspected to have been fired from Sinai landed in Eilat and in Jordan.