Routine maintenance work by IDF leads to worst clashes since 2006 war.
By YAAKOV KATZ
Israel vowed to respond harshly to further Lebanese aggression after a reserve battalion commander was killed on Tuesday and another soldier was seriously wounded in the worst violence along the northern border since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.Lt.-Col. (res.) Dov Harari, 45, from Netanya, was shot dead by a sniper from the Lebanese Armed Forces, and a company commander from his battalion, Capt. Ezra Lakia, sustained a gunshot wound to the chest. By Tuesday evening, Lakia was in stable condition at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.RELATED:Sharp words from Lebanese leaders, Syria Photo gallery: Unrest on the northern border'Kiryat Shmona mayor: Residents don't need to enter shelters'Editorial: Assad's LebanonThe violence began around noon, when a force from Harari’s reserve battalion entered an enclave along the border and near Kibbutz Misgav Am to conduct routine maintenance work. Enclaves refer to land that is sovereign Israeli territory but is on the other side of the border fence, which does not always run directly parallel to the internationally recognized border, known as the Blue Line.The soldiers had coordinated their movement beyond the fence with UNIFIL and were working to cut down a tree when shots were fired in their direction. Lakia was shot in the chest by a Lebanese Army sniper, and Harari was shot in the head.The IDF responded with heavy tank fire at an Lebanese position just over the border, killing three soldiers and a Lebanese journalist. Lebanese soldiers then fired rocket-propelled grenades at an Israeli tank south of the border.AdvertisementIDF artillery began pounding the area, and a number of IAF attack helicopters were dispatched to bomb a Lebanese Armed Forces command center in the southern Lebanese town of Taiba. The center was heavily damaged, as were a number of LAF armored personnel carriers parked nearby.The IDF has noticed an increase lately in anti-Israel rhetoric among senior LAF commanders. The LAF company commander responsible for the area where the attack took place recently took up his post and, the IDF believes, might have interpreted the recent rise in rhetoric to mean that he could take matters into his own hands.Israel is concerned with the radicalization that the LAF has undergone over the past year, including the assistance it provides Hizbullah in hiding its arms caches and operations throughout southern Lebanon.“Israel will not stand by as its soldiers and citizens are attacked,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Tuesday, adding that the IDF would continue to operate in all of its sovereign territory, including within the enclaves between the fence and the Blue Line border.OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot said the Lebanese soldiers had planned to attack the troops and used the crossing of the fence as an excuse.“This was a deliberate ambush,” Eizenkot said. “This was a provocation by the LAF, and we view the shooting severely.”Eizenkot said that following Israel’s harsh response, the LAF transmitted a request via UNIFIL to the IDF, asking for a cease-fire.“I believe that this is an isolated incident, but it is the gravest incident since the Second Lebanon War, and that is why we responded the way we did,” he said.IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi flew to the northern border on Tuesday to oversee operations. The army stressed that it had coordinated its crossing of the fence with UNIFIL, informing them of a need to carry out maintenance work across the fence but still within Israel.Lebanese President Michel Suleiman called on his country to “stand up to Israel’s violation of UN Resolution 1701 – whatever the cost.”Security Council Resolution 1701 brokered the cease-fire that ended the Second Lebanon War.UNIFIL leaders called on the IDF and the LAF to exercise “maximum restraint.”“The first priority is to calm the region,” a spokesman for the international peacekeeping force said.Military sources said that on Wednesday the IDF would return to the enclave near Misgav Am. “We will continue to work as usual and will cut down the tree,” one officer said.Also on Wednesday, the IDF will participate in a trilateral meeting with UNIFIL and LAF representatives at Nakoura, Lebanon, to discuss Tuesday’s violence and attempt to create guidelines that will prevent similar incidents.There were reports of a Katyusha rocket fired into Israel during the clashes, but the claims were not substantiated by the IDF, which said no rocket strikes had been identified.The attack came a day after six rockets hit near Eilat, including one in Jordan that killed a man outside Aqaba’s Intercontinental Hotel.Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malcha told Channel 10 on Tuesday afternoon that there was no need for northern residents to enter bomb shelters.“I hope that this is an isolated incident,” he said.Upper Galilee Regional Council head Aharon Valenzia called on the large number of people enjoying vacations and day trips in the North to continue what they were doing without fear.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.
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