Peretz: Army must respond "with force"; Ben-Eliezer: War possible in 2007.
By YAAKOV KATZ, JPOSTLEO GIOSUÈCOM STAFF, AP
Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Thursday ordered the Lebanese Armed Forces to respond to Israeli threats to Lebanese sovereignty, following clashes that broke out between the LAF and IDF troops on the northern border late Wednesday night, Israel Radio reported.
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."
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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, Defense Minister Amir 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 on an engineering corps battalion sweeping an area inside Israel for Hizbullah bombs 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.
Earlier Thursday morning, Peretz conducted a series of urgent meetings regarding the Wednesday night clash - the first between Israel and Lebanese troops since the war ended last summer.
"The main problem," Peretz said during the meetings, "isn't on the Lebanese border, but on the Syrian border, where weapons are constantly being smuggled to Hizbullah. The decision for them to come and transfer arms is a decisive one. We absolutely can't ignore it."
Meanwhile, National Infrastructures Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer said Thursday that it was "not impossible" that summer 2007 would see another round of conflict in the North.
Ben-Eliezer predicted that Syria, as well as Lebanon, would be a combatant, and said that the IDF was unprepared to fight such a war.
Chief of Staff of the Northern Command Brig.-Gen. Alon Friedman told Army Radio Thursday morning that everything possible will be done to ensure Israel's sovereignty, and that Wednesday evening's operations were in accordance with the new IDF policy in the area.
"We considered the possibility that the LAF would do as it threatened and either shoot [at troops] or cross the fence. The moment that they carried out their threats, we made it clear that we are serious - not by words, but by action."
"As far as we're concerned," Friedman continued, "the operation is over, and we expect the border to remain quiet."
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