Fri, Feb 09, 2007 - Page 1 News List

UN soldiers deploy on Lebanese-Israeli border

AFP , TYRE, LEBANON

UN peacekeepers boosted their presence on the volatile Lebanese-Israeli border yesterday after a clash between the armies of both sides, the first such incident in decades.

Dozens of Italian and French soldiers deployed after the first direct clash involving Lebanese troops, who moved into the border area after Israel's 34-day war with Lebanese Shiite Muslim Hezbollah last summer.

The peacekeepers, backed by armor, took up positions along a 5km stretch between the villages of Yaroun and Maroun ar-Ras, near the site of the overnight shooting.

Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire across the border late on Wednesday, causing no casualties, in an incident sparked by Israeli sappers moving towards the border to clear unexploded ordnance.

Tension remained high yesterday as Israeli aircraft continued to fly over the border after Israeli officials pledged that warplanes will intensify controversial flights over Lebanon.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora ordered the army to respond to any new Israeli violation, the state National News Agency reported.

"Siniora was in contact with the army command ... and gave clear orders for the confrontation of any Israeli violation of Lebanese sovereignty," it said.

Siniora met Gier Pedersen, the UN representative in Lebanon, yesterday to tell him that "the Lebanese government rejects these new Israeli aggressions on Lebanese sovereignty," the agency said.

Member of Parliament Hassan Fadlallah of Hezbollah hailed the Lebanese army for confronting Israel's "violation of Lebanese sovereignty," but complained that "the United Nations is not moving a finger" to stop Israel's actions.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) called the shooting "a serious incident."

"The exchange was initiated by the Lebanese army after an IDF [Israeli Defense Force] bulldozer crossed the technical fence in an apparent attempt to clear the area between the technical fence and the Blue Line of mines," spokesman Milos Strugar said.

He said UNIFIL commander Major General Claudio Graziano had urged both sides to cease hostilities, which they did.

"UNIFIL troops have been deployed in the area," Strugar said.

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