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Tuesday, August 3, 2010

JFNA Briefing: Israel and Lebanon Clash on Northern Border



Aug. 3, 2010

A major escalation of tension and hostilities took place a few hours ago on the Israel- Lebanon border. Since there were Israeli casualties, a media blackout was in place in Israel on some details until about one hour ago, when JFNA prepared this report. 

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Lebanese soldiers opened fire across the border at Israeli troops in the most serious incident since the end of the Second Lebanon War. A senior IDF officer, Lieutenant Colonel Dov Harari, 45, was killed in the skirmish. Harari was an IDF reservist who served as a battalion commander in the sector where the clash took place.

In the past, border incidents have involved Hezbollah terrorists, but in this case, it was regular Lebanese Army troops who fired on the IDF. According to the IDF, Israeli soldiers were engaged in routine maintenance near Misgav Am, in an area between the internationally recognized ‘blue line’ border and Israel’s security fence, when they came under fire.

The Lebanese government is claiming the Israeli troops had crossed over the border and entered no-man’s land in order to tear down a tree that was blocking Israel's vision. The IDF says the troops had remained on the Israeli side of the border. There are no claims that Israeli troops actually crossed into Lebanese territory.

“It was a planned ambush by a sniper unit … this was a provocation by the Lebanese Army,” said IDF Major-General Gadi Eisenkot. “We view this fire as a highly grave incident. Our forces responded at once, and immediately after that we resorted to artillery and gunship fire.”

Three Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist also died in today’s clash, following heavy Israeli retaliation with artillery and tank fire. The wounded Israeli soldier is 30-year-old reservist Captain Ezra Lakia, who was evacuated by helicopter to Haifa's Rambam hospital.

After the initial fire, Israel directed artillery fire at other Lebanon Army outposts and also dispatched gunships to strike the posts, which hold a dominating position and could have posed a risk to Israeli troops on the ground. The Israel Air Force also struck a Lebanese Army headquarters in a nearby village. Several Lebanese military vehicles were destroyed in the strike.

At one point, the Lebanese Army requested a ceasefire in order to evacuate wounded soldiers. The IDF agreed, but during this lull, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired at an IDF tank, though it missed its target.

There is speculation that this was an intentional Lebanese attack aimed at deflecting Lebanese public attention from a UN report on the assassination of former President Rafik Hariri, which was threatening to cause major civilian unrest in the country in the coming days. Some news accounts say the report will blame Hezbollah for the killing.

Israel today lodged an urgent and immediate complaint with UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, saying Lebanon committed a blatant violation of the UN-sanctioned 2006 ceasefire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated: “I hold the Lebanese government directly responsible for this provocation.” He added that Israel would continue to respond with force to any further attempts to violate the ceasefire and disturb the lives of residents of Israel’s north and the IDF troops who protect them.

Foreign Minister Ehud Barak issued a warning to the Lebanese government, saying that Israel would not tolerate any attacks on citizens or soldiers on its “sovereign territory.” Barak called on the international community to condemn the “criminal acts of the Lebanese Army.”

Earlier in the day, Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malcha said there is no need for northern residents to enter bomb shelters.

JFNA will keep Federations updated as major news develops.

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