Israel, Lebanon move to ease tensions

Tags: Israel, Lebanon, News
Israel and Lebanon rushed to ease tensions following a deadly border skirmish that left one Israeli soldier dead, with the enemy countries holding a face-to-face meeting with UN peacekeepers and pledging their commitment to a seven-year-old cease-fire.

The UN peacekeeping force along the volatile border, UNIFIL, said it called the meeting to "establish the facts and circumstances" behind the flare-up in violence and to restore a cease-fire that has been in place since a 2006 war.

It said both sides pledged to preserve "calm and stability."

In Sunday's incident, a Lebanese sniper opened fire at an Israeli vehicle traveling near the border area of Rosh Hanikra, killing a soldier inside. Several hours later, the Israeli military said it shot two Lebanese soldiers after spotting "suspicious movement" in the same area. It was the heaviest fighting between the enemy countries in more than three years and drew condemnations and threats of retaliation from Israel.

Late yesterday, the Lebanese army distanced itself from the incident, saying the shooting was the result of an "individual act" by a soldier.

It said a military committee was investigating the incident and was coordinating with the UN peacekeeping mission. With the shooter in custody, there was no word on a motive for the attack and no mention of the two soldiers allegedly shot by Israel. The Lebanese army stressed its full commitment to UN resolutions, including maintaining the 2006 cease-fire.

The tame language, and near apology for the incident, was rare for the Lebanese military, which is usually quick to point out Israeli border transgressions. It suggested that Lebanon was keen to avoid a conflagration on its border at a time of severe tensions resulting from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.

Likewise, Israeli officials tried to lower the tensions. "The idea is to bring the situation back to normal and not aggravate the situation," said Lt Col Peter Lerner, a military spokesman.

The border has remained mostly quiet since the monthlong war in the summer of 2006, though there have been sporadic outbursts of violence. In the most serious incident, Lebanese forces killed a high-ranking Israeli officer in 2010, claiming the Israeli army had crossed the border while uprooting a tree.

Israel responded with artillery fire that killed three Lebanese. Given the years of enmity between the two countries, even the smallest incident raises the risk of sparking a wider conflagration.

The UN Security Council yesterday issued a statement condemning the killing of the Israeli soldier, but noting that "UNIFIL confirmed the Lebanese government's preliminary findings which indicate that the shooting was an individual action by a soldier.

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