IDF, Lebanese troops clash on northern border

LAF fires on Engineering Corps soldiers sweeping for bombs inside Israel, prompting tank fire from IDF; no casualties.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Shortly after 11 p.m. Wednesday evening, Lebanese troops opened fire with machine guns at IDF Engineering Corps soldiers who were operating in Israeli territory in search of roadside bombs and land mines. The troops returned fire with two tank rounds. The Lebanese army said none of its soldiers were harmed in the incident; however, UNIFIL claimed earlier that at least five Lebanese soldiers were wounded or killed. Following the incident, Defense Minister Amir Peretz held consultations with active Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Dan Halutz and other top officers. Earlier Wednesday, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) had been threatening to open fire on IDF troops operating near the border. IDF troops from Engineering Battalion 603 were searching an area along the Israeli-Lebanon border, north of the Israeli community of Avivim, for explosive devices. On Monday, five bombs were discovered and detonated by soldiers and the IDF said it believed Hizbullah had been planted along the border in recent days. Also Wednesday, several Lebanese soldiers threw rocks at IDF soldiers near Rosh Hanikra along the border with Lebanon. No one was wounded and no damages were reported and the IDF said it planned to file an official complaint with United Nations headquarters in New York. In related news, High-ranking officers from the French contingent of UNIFIL have recently complained to their IDF counterparts of being mistreated by Lebanese villagers - under orders from Hizbullah - due to their decision to incorporate Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) into daily peacekeeping operations. The French officers told IDF officers in the Northern Command that under Hizbullah orders, shopkeepers in southern Lebanese villages are not allowed to sell them food or supplies. One officer told the IDF that he went to a store to buy a pair of shoes and that the shopkeeper refused to sell even after he offered to pay double the set price. In addition to the boycott, the French contingent is also the most threatened force in UNIFIL due to its crackdown on Hizbullah and its employment of UAVs in reconnaissance operations. The French Armed Forces deployed a UAV squadron in southern Lebanon in December to conduct intelligence-gathering missions. Sources in the Northern Command said that the French contingent - together with Spanish and Italian soldiers - were doing an exemplary job at preventing Hizbullah from reestablishing its terror infrastructure in southern Lebanon and particularly along the Blue Line, international border. The Spanish, French and Italian contingents sources said, were particularly effective in locating and destroying Hizbullah weapon caches. "Because they are actually doing their job they are being harassed and threatened by Hizbullah," explained an IDF officer in the Northern Command. UNIFIL spokesman Liam McDowall downplayed the report and said that while there was some low-level friction between UNIIFL soldiers and local Lebanese civilians, it was mostly due to the civilians' difficulty getting used to the new large presence of the peacekeeping force near their homes. Peretz accused Syria on Wednesday of facilitating the rearmament of Hizbullah guerrillas in Lebanon and said Israel had the right to act "forcefully" against the guerrilla group to counter the threat. "We can't under any circumstances ignore the transfer of weapons and ammunition to Hizbullah," Peretz said. While Israel remains committed to the cease-fire, he said, "we reserve the right to protect the citizens of the state of Israel and we will do this forcefully without any compromises." AP contributed to this report.