x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Israeli army resumes Lebanon border tree clearing

The UN force stationed in southern Lebanon issue a statement saying that the trees being cut were located on the Israeli side of the border.

Israeli soldiers prepare to go back to the site of an exchange of fire between Israeli and Lebanese troops along the border today.
Israeli soldiers prepare to go back to the site of an exchange of fire between Israeli and Lebanese troops along the border today.

Israeli troops today uprooted trees along the border with Lebanon, completing an operation interrupted by a deadly gunbattle with Lebanese soldiers. The UN force stationed in southern Lebanon issued a statement today saying that the trees being cut were located on the Israeli side of the border. The troops were seen using a crane that reached over a fence in a disputed border area near the village of Aadaysie and uprooting trees that were then thrown inside Israeli territory. The same operation yesterday sparked a deadly border battle that killed two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist as well as a senior Israeli officer. Israel appeared keen to show it would not be deterred from operating in the area. "We are continuing to operate. It will not be legitimate if they try to disrupt today, and we will have to respond," Israel's defence minister Ehud Barak said on Israel Radio. The Israelis apparently proceeded with the operation as the trees blocked their view into Lebanon. Israel's security cabinet meanwhile was meeting in Jerusalem today to discuss the fallout from the skirmish, the worst clash on the border since a 2006 war between the Jewish state and Lebanon's Hizbollah party. The ministers were to discuss "the consequences of the attacks for which the Lebanese government is responsible," said a senior Israeli official, who asked not to be named. "It is evident that the Lebanese government is doubly responsible: the attack against our soldiers occurred when they were on Israeli territory and it is Lebanese soldiers who opened fire and forced us to respond," he added. Each side blamed the other for sparking yesterday's firefight which stoked fears of an all out conflict. Israel said its troops were fired upon while conducting maintenance work along the border, and that UN forces had been notified in advance. Lebanon said its troops opened fire after an Israeli patrol crossed the border fence. Yesterday, the Hizbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah called on his followers not to react but said the group would not "stand idly" by in the future. "We told our militants to hold back, not to do anything," he said in a speech transmitted by video link to thousands of supporters massed in Hizbollah's stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs. Lebanon said it would file a complaint with the UN security council, whose members met for private consultations on the incident. Afterwards, the council expressed "deep concern" and urged the parties to show "utmost restraint ... observe the cessation of hostilities and prevent any further escalation". The Lebanese army said there had been discussions with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil) in recent days about an Israeli request to remove some trees along the border. "There was also talk of Unifil carrying out this operation but the Israelis insisted on doing it on their own," a spokesman told AFP. "These trees are on Lebanese territory and we are free to keep them or remove them," he added.

The Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri, who is on vacation in Italy, called various world leaders to discuss the Israeli "aggression". The United States, the United Nations and the European Union urged the two sides to exercise restraint. Syria condemned what it said was Israel's "heinous aggression," Iran spoke of a "hysterical assault" and Jordan said it was "deeply concerned". * With agencies