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A day after clashes erupted between IDF troops and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), a top officer in the Northern Command told The Jerusalem Post Thursday that Hizbullah - as a result of the border flare-up - had readied itself in preparation for additional violence.
The officer stressed, however, that Hizbullah did not appear like it was ready to attack Israel and that the border incident seemed to pass as an isolated incident.
Saniora tells LAF to counter IDF threats
Late Wednesday night, IDF troops searching for Hizbullah bombs inside Israel, although past the northern border security fence, came under fire from nearby Lebanese army troops. In response, an IDF tank fired two shells at an LAF position.
"There is a tense quiet," Deputy Northern Command chief Brig.-Gen. Alon Friedman said Thursday. "All the sides are on the ready, including the LAF and Hizbullah."
Friedman said that all of the parties involved understood that the Lebanese army had made a mistake opening fire at Israel. He said that while Hizbullah was not getting ready to attack Israel as a result of the incident, guerrillas were asking questions about the border flare-up and activity was noticed in the some of the group's headquarters in some southern Lebanese villages.
IDF officers from the Foreign Liaison Unit met Thursday evening with UNIFIL officials and clarified Israel's policy of continuing to operate in Israeli territory even on the other side of the border fence, which is several meters south of the Blue Line international border.
The Prime Minister's Office downplayed Wednesday night's border skirmish in Lebanon as a localized incident that need not spiral into anything more, and said Israel was pleased with its level of coordination with UNIFIL.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received ongoing assessments throughout the day about the situation in the North, but did not hold a special security consultation to deal specifically with developments on the border.
He met Defense Minister Amir Peretz in Tel Aviv for their regular weekly meeting.
Sources in the Prime Minister's Office said that all of the IDF's activity Wednesday night took place within Israel's recognized border.
"Everything was done in cooperation with the UNIFIL forces," one source said. "Israel views the incident as severe and will not tolerate the abuse of our international border. But we have no intention of escalating the situation on the northern border, even though Hizbullah is trying to challenge Israel's territorial sovereignty."
Israel received messages Thursday indicating that the Lebanese government headed by Fuad Saniora was also unhappy with the developments.
Saniora denounced what he called Israel's violation of the Lebanese border, telling UN envoy Geir Pedersen that his government condemned the "new Israeli aggression on Lebanon's sovereignty and the violation of the Blue Line."
Speaking to Pedersen in front of reporters, Saniora said the incursion compounded the daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli aircraft. The IDF confirmed that it continued to fly over Lebanon, saying that "the incident [Wednesday] hasn't led us to change our aerial activity."
Earlier Thursday, Peretz ordered the IDF to respond with force to any act of aggression against Israel along the northern border with Lebanon.
During a security consultation with IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz, Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh and other senior officers, Peretz said that the IDF decision Wednesday night to return fire after the LAF attack was correct and in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
"We have no intention of escalating the situation along the border, but in cases of active aggression against IDF troops, we will need to respond," Peretz said during the briefing.
Peretz said that the LAF and UNIFIL were, on the whole, fulfilling their obligations by preventing Hizbullah from taking up positions along the border with Israel, but that in cases of violations of 1701, Israel would defend itself.
"We have no intention of returning to the policy of the past few years under which we turned a blind eye to the situation in the North," Peretz said.