June 29, 2005

Hizbollah kills Israeli soldier in clash

By Afif Diab

KFAR SHOUBA, Lebanon (Reuters) - Lebanese Hizbollahguerrillas struck army posts in an Israeli-occupied border areaon Wednesday, killing an Israeli soldier in an attack that drewair raids from the Jewish state.

"Following the Hizbollah attack, the air force targetedoutposts used by Hizbollah to carry out attacks against Israelitargets," the Israeli army said.

Witnesses said the warplanes bombed the outskirts of twosouth Lebanese border villages.

It was the most serious incident in the flashpoint ShebaaFarms area since Jan. 9, when a Hizbollah attack and Israeliretaliatory strikes killed an Israeli officer, a Frenchmilitary observer and a Hizbollah guerrilla.

The Israeli army said one soldier was killed and fivetroops were wounded in Wednesday's fighting.

"A terrorist squad infiltrated Israeli territory within HarDov," Major-General Benny Ganz, chief of Israel's NorthernCommand, told Israel TV.

"We hit the squad and we are continuing our activity in thefield. As a result of this event, Hizbollah fired mortar bombsand rockets in the area."

Israeli military officials said they believed Hizbollah,which is backed by Syria and Iran, carried out the attack toflex its muscles after Lebanese elections returned ananti-Syrian majority to parliament for the first time since the1975-1990 civil war.

Commenting on the violence, State Department spokesman SeanMcCormack told reporters: "Based on the information we havenow, I would just make clear that in our view Israel has aright to defend itself."

The statement was a slight departure from the StateDepartment's recent practice of urging both sides to exerciserestraint.


Black smoke could be seen rising from posts in the hillyborder enclave after the guerrillas fired rockets and mortarbombs at three border posts.

"An Israeli infantry force crossed the Blue Line headingtoward Lebanese areas when it hit an advanced ambush of theIslamic Resistance," Hizbollah said in a statement.

"Clashes took place with machine guns ... and (Hizbollah)inflicted casualties among the enemy's soldiers."

The U.N.-delineated Blue Line marks Israel's withdrawalfrom south Lebanon and does not represent a permanent border.

"There was fire across the Blue Line. UNIFIL is in contactwith both sides urging maximum restraint," said Milos Strugar,senior adviser to the United Nations observer force in southLebanon. "We are now in the process of ascertaining the facts."

Hizbollah was instrumental in ending Israel's 22-yearoccupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. The two foes haveclashed sporadically in the Shebaa Farms since.

The United Nations says Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon iscomplete and the Shebaa Farms is Israeli-occupied Syrian land.Lebanon and Syria say the area is still occupied Lebanese soil.

A U.N. resolution called last year for Syria to withdrawfrom Lebanon and Hizbollah to disarm. Syrian troops pulled outin April under Lebanese and international pressure but theguerrilla group vowed not to lay down its weapons. (Additional reporting by Alaa Shahine and Lin Noueihed)