Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Fighting Breaks Out On Lebanon-Israel Border; Multiple Casualties Reported

The earliest reports are frequently wrong or misstate events as they actually occurred, but this much we know for certain. Lebanese forces opened fire on an Israeli patrol and there were casualties on both sides. At least four Lebanese soldiers were killed when the Israelis returned fire with both small arms and artillery called in against Lebanese military positions.

The Israeli military released a statement that indicates that they had not only informed UNIFIL that they would be operating near the border, but that the work was being done on the Israeli side of the border. The IDF is holding the Lebanese military responsible for the incident.
Earlier today during the mid-day hours, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) fired at an IDF position along the Lebanese border in northern Israel. The force was in Israeli territory, carrying out routine maintenance and was pre-coordinated with UNIFIL. The border area is east of the Israeli town Metula. The incident occurred west of the internationally recognized “Blue Line” (the border between Israel and Lebanon) and east of the security fence, thus lying in Israeli territory.

The IDF force immediately returned fire with light arms at a force of the LAF, and the IDF also made use of artillery fire. Several minutes later an Israel Air Force (IAF) helicopter fired at the LAF Battalion Command Center in Al-Taybeh, damaging several LAF armored combat vehicles.

The IDF holds the LAF responsible for the incident that disrupted the calm in the region, and its consequences.

The IDF Chief of the General Staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi arrived at the Israeli-Lebanese border, is following the events closely as they unfold, and is constantly holding situation assessment reports with the OC Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, as well as the Galilee Regional Division commander and additional commanders.
The work involved removing trees that had come down along the fence line. The fence is heavily monitored and rigged with detection equipment to prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Israel via the Lebanese border such that if a tree had come down on the fence, it would interfere with the detection equipment.

UNIFIL has its hands full and is urging both sides to show restraint. If the Israeli military had informed UNIFIL that they would be undertaking the repairs along the fence (and within Israel's border) then someone at UNIFIL failed to pass along that information to the Lebanese military, where someone decided that this was an Israeli attack and opened fire. UNIFIL doesn't come off looking good here (and it never does), but neither does the Lebanese military who opened fire first before inquiring as to what the Israelis were doing.

Aussie Dave and the Muqata are both liveblogging the situation along the Northern border. The IDF is also updating their statements here.

Ha'aretz is reporting that an Israeli Lt. Colonel was among those killed in the incident. The paper is further reporting that the attack started when a sniper on the Lebanese side of the border opened fire on the Israelis who were carrying out maintenance along the border fence - but wholly within Israeli territory.
Israel Defense Forces GOC Northern Command Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot announced Tuesday that two Israeli officers had been very seriously hit during the exchange of fire. Eizenkot said that the incident had been a "deliberate ambush."

Eizenkot told Israeli media that "a routine operation was carried out during the afternoon near Misgav Am – an operation whose purpose was to trim some bushes near the border, in our [Israeli] territory. It was on both sides of the border but still within [Israeli] territory. Officers oversaw the operation from a permanent position. Sniper fire was directed at the officers, and two of them were wounded as a result."

The GOC Northern Command stressed that "this was a pre-planned event, aggression by the Lebanese army who shot at soldiers inside Israeli territory without any provocation. We view this as a very severe incident."
It was a deliberate ambush and now raises questions over what UNIFIL and the Lebanese military knew and when.

Here's video showing how the incident broke out. There are UNIFIL soldiers from the Indonesian contingent who were shouting towards the Israelis to stop working along the Israeli fence within Israeli territory but then someone among the Lebanese soldiers' contingent opened fire.

The Lebanese military acted so improperly in this incident that even the UNIFIL was forced to admit that Israel was within its rights to operate along the fence and that the Lebanese acted improperly. Israel can't let its guard down, and Hizbullah is making the most of the incident to whip up anti-Israel sentiment, which also happens to mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the 2006 Hizbullah war that decimated Southern Lebanon following Hizbullah's invasion of Israel to kidnap Israelis.

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