Israel will hit hard against anyone who tries to harm its citizens, Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday as he issued a stern warning to
both Hamas and the Lebanese government in the aftermath of four attacks against
Israel in the past five days from Gaza, Sinai and Lebanon.
reach, and hit with great force, anyone who shoots at Israeli citizens, no
matter from where,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew statement released to the
'Terrorists want to thwart peace'
Photo gallery: Unrest on the border
Casualty of border clash buried
In a new move for the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu also
released the statement in video form. In it, he held Hamas accountable for
Friday’s rocket attack from Gaza on Ashkelon, and for Saturday’s attack against
the Sha’ar Hanegev region. He also blamed Hamas for Monday’s rocket fire from
Sinai against Eilat and Aqaba. One Jordanian was killed.
were followed by an incident along the northern border on Tuesday in which
Lebanese soldiers killed an IDF reserve battalion commander and wounded another
In the exchange of fire, three Lebanese soldiers and one
journalist were killed.
“I want it to be clear to Hamas, as well as to
the Lebanese government, which we hold responsible for the violent provocations
against our soldiers: Do not test our determination to protect Israeli citizens
and soldiers. Our policy is clear. Israel responds and will continue to respond
forcibly to every attack against its citizens and soldiers,” the prime minister
“It appears that there are those who understand this and have tried
to evade responsibility for their crimes,” he added.
issued an English statement, both in print and on video, in which he called on
the international community to condemn the Lebanese attack in light of
Wednesday’s statement by UNIFIL peacekeepers that the trees the IDF was removing
along the security fence was located in Israel.
Lebanon claimed it had
shot at Israeli soldiers after they crossed the international
“Following the exchange of fire between the Lebanese army and the
Israeli army across the Blue Line in El- Adeisse yesterday, the UNIFIL
investigators were on the ground and commenced investigations,” the UNIFIL
statement said. “The investigations are still ongoing and the findings will be
intimated on conclusion of the investigations.
however, that the trees being cut by the Israeli army are located south of the
Blue Line on the Israeli side.”
Netanyahu said that now was the time for
the world to speak out against such aggression.
“For years, many in the
international community have remained silent when rockets have been fired at
Israeli civilians, and when unprovoked attacks have been launched against our
soldiers,” he said. “Expressions of outrage have largely been reserved for
Israel’s response to those attacks. Firing missiles on civilians is a war crime,
and unprovoked attacks on soldiers are blatant acts of
“Israel expects the international community to condemn such
attacks in the strongest possible terms,” the prime minister said. “All those in
the international community committed to peace should support Israel’s right to
defend itself against those who attack the innocent and seek to
Netanyahu’s office said that as of Thursday, all his
statements would be made available in both languages.
US State Department
spokesman P.J. Crowley labeled the Lebanese fire on IDF soldiers “wholly
unjustified and unwarranted,” speaking at a briefing with reporters on
“The United Nations has now established that the trees cut by
the Israeli Defense Forces were on the Israeli side of the line that separates
Israel and Lebanon,” Crowley said. “The firing by the Lebanese Armed Forces was
wholly unjustified and unwarranted.”
Crowley stressed that the US would
“continue to seek a full report about this incident,” with the priority being
that such incidents don’t recur. He also repeated his comments from the day
before, calling for maximum restraint.
“We regret the loss of life on
both sides,” he said.
Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon also told The
Jerusalem Post that Israel expects the international community to come out
loudly in condemnation of Lebanon, especially in light of UNIFIL’s
Diplomatic officials in Jerusalem said they were slightly
frustrated at the “even-handed” statement put out by European countries, which
did not squarely condemn Lebanon.
On Wednesday evening, UNIFIL held a
special meeting with IDF and Lebanese army officials at the Nakoura crossing,
toping off a day of furious diplomatic activity aimed at reducing
According to a statement from UNIFIL, its commander Maj.-Gen.
Alberto Asarta Cuevas called the extraordinary tripartite meeting to address the
serious situation that had developed, with the aim of preventing any
In advance of the meeting, UNIFIL said it “expects the
parties will address the issues in a constructive way and renew their
commitment, as a matter of priority, to the cessation of hostilities, as well as
fully utilize the liaison and coordination mechanism with UNIFIL with a view to
ensuring that incidents of violence are avoided in the future.”
statement said UNIFIL had been in constant contact with the parties throughout
Wednesday, “urging them to exercise maximum restraint and cease firing, as well
as to fully respect the Blue Line in line with their declared commitment to the
implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.”
In spite of
UNIFIL’s supportive statement toward Israel on Wednesday, Israeli defense
officials and diplomats were critical of its moves in advance of the
A vote on extending UNIFIL’s mandate is slated for late August
and will likely pass without any problem. While Foreign Ministry officials said
that Israel was not seeking changes to UNIFIL’s mandate, defense officials said
they would use Tuesday’s border skirmish as well as intelligence on Hizbullah’s
military buildup in southern Lebanese villages to argue that UNIFIL needed to be
The criticism of UNIFIL stemmed from pictures on Tuesday
that showed peacekeepers standing alongside Lebanese soldiers, who, instead of
working to stop the fire, appeared to call on Israel to stop clearing the brush,
even though Israel had informed the UNIFIL men of the impending operation six
Diplomatic officials blamed this part of the incident on
UNIFIL’s Indonesian contingent and said they were concerned.
diplomatic source was worried about “Indonesia sympathies with the other
On Wednesday, the IDF completing clearing the brush.
Shaul Mofaz (Labor), a former defense minister, was extremely critical of UNIFIL
on Wednesday and said it had been incompetent in its failure to stop the
Other defense officials said the peacekeeping force’s
conduct was proof of the need for a more robust mandate that would enable it to
be more aggressive and use force to stop Hizbullah violations in southern
Israel is particularly disturbed by UNIFIL’s refusal to enter
villages independently and without coordinating first with Lebanese forces,
which the IDF has said frequently cooperate with Hizbullah.
UNIFIL’s statement that the brush had been on the Israeli side of the border,
Lebanon said it still considered the tree-trimming a provocation, saying its
soldiers fired warning shots after the Israelis ignored requests from UNIFIL to
stop their work, and that Israel retaliated.
Information Minister Tarek
Mitri said Lebanon respects the border but still contests part of it, insisting
that the fateful cypress tree, while on the Israeli side of the border, “is
UNIFIL had told Lebanon the IDF was planning to fell
the tree, but Lebanon appealed.
The country admitted its soldiers had
been the first to fire when the incident broke out, but said they had been
Israel’s security cabinet, meanwhile, was briefed on the
events at its weekly meeting on Wednesday. A number of assessments were
discussed, ranging from the possibility that this had been a “localized
incident” that could be contained, to a more worrisome assessment that Hizbullah
supporters had infiltrated the Lebanese army and were doing the Shi’ite
There is also the possibility that the incident
was timed to detract attention from the expected indictment in the near future
of Hizbullah members in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister
The security cabinet was told of the manner in which the
IDF informed UNIFIL well in advance of its brush-clearing work on Tuesday, and
also of the fact that the IDF had warned UNIFIL that recent instances of
Lebanese soldiers pointing their weapons at IDF soldiers, and cursing them,
would likely spiral out of control.
Throughout Wednesday, Israeli
officials were in contact with their counterparts in the US, France and Egypt in
an attempt to ease the tensions with Lebanon.
Israeli officials were
hopeful on Wednesday night that the incident was already behind
Hilary Leila Kreiger contributed to this report.