Three killed as Israel and Hezbollah trade fire

A spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) urged “maximum restraint to prevent an escalation”.

The peacekeeper was killed close to the disputed Shebaa Farms area, where an Israeli convoy was earlier hit by anti-tank missiles, killing two soldiers.

The Israeli military responded by firing shells into southern Lebanon.

Hezbollah said it carried out the missile attack in retaliation for an Israeli air strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general in the Syrian Golan Heights 10 days ago.

‘Tragic incident’

Wednesday’s cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were hit at about 11:35 (09:35 GMT) near Mt Dov, in the Shebaa Farms area, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.

The Israeli military said two soldiers were killed and seven others injured. But it rejected a report by Lebanon’s official National News Agency that one had been captured.

Just over an hour later, mortars hit an Israeli military position on Mt Hermon, prompting troops to close the site and evacuate civilians from a ski resort in the area.

The Israeli military said it responded to the attacks with combined aerial and ground strikes on Hezbollah operational positions along the border. Lebanese officials said at least 50 artillery shells were fired at the villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba.

Later, Unifil announced that one of its peacekeepers had been killed.

“We are looking into the circumstances of this tragic incident,” spokesman Andrea Tenenti said, without specifying the source of the fire.

He also declined to give the peacekeeper’s nationality, but Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed on Twitter his “great sadness at the death of a Spanish soldier in Lebanon”.

Mr Tenenti said Unifil’s commander, Maj Gen Luciano Portolano, was “in close contact with all the parties, urging maximum restraint to prevent an escalation”.

The UN Special Co-ordinator for Lebanon, Sigrid Kaag, expressed “deep concern over the serious deterioration of the security situation” and “urgently called on all parties to refrain from any actions that could destabilise the situation further”.

‘Criminal terror attack’

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was “prepared to act powerfully on all fronts”, adding: “Security comes before everything else.”

His office accused Iran, Hezbollah’s main backer, of being behind what it described as a “criminal terror attack” by the Shia Islamist movement.

In a statement, Hezbollah said a number of Israelis were killed in the attack by a group calling itself the “heroic martyrs of Quneitra”, an apparent reference to an area of the Syrian Golan Heights where the Israeli air strike took place on 18 January.

Sources in Israel said that attack was aimed at stopping an attack on Israeli soil.

The Israeli military had already boosted its air defences and stepped up surveillance along its northern frontiers, after Hezbollah and Iran vowed to seek revenge.

Earlier on Wednesday, Israeli aircraft bombed Syrian army artillery positions in response to two rockets that were fired the previous day into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Israeli medics said up to seven people were lightly injured by the rocket fire.

The flare-up along the Israeli-Lebanon frontier recalls the beginning of the month-long war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006, which was triggered by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle that led to the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers.


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