UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Israeli forces crossed into Lebanon last week in an effort to clear mines and the Lebanese army opened fire while Israeli forces were still in their own territory, a U.N. investigation reported.
The incident last Wednesday was the first border clash since last summer’s 34 days of fighting between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah guerrillas. Lebanese leaders called it an Israeli violation of Lebanese territory but Israel said its army was inside its own frontier.
Alvaro de Soto, the U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, on Tuesday blamed both sides for the incident.
He told the 15-member Security Council that the Israeli army had signaled to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, it intended to cross a protective or “technical fence” to clear a number of mines in Israeli territory.
But UNIFIL commanders urged Israel to meet with the United Nations and Lebanon “so as to avoid an increase in tension along the Blue Line,” the frontier between the two countries demarcated by the United Nations in 2000, de Soto said.
Crossing the fence does not violate the border between Israel and Lebanon but crossing the Blue Line would.
Despite UNIFIL’s appeals, the Israel Defense Forces went ahead and the “Lebanese Army opened small arms fire after the IDF made an opening in the technical fence but whilst they were still on the Israeli side of the Blue Line,” de Soto said.
The Lebanese army then “intensified fire, using both rifles and machine guns aimed at the IDF bulldozer which by that time had crossed the fence,” de Soto said.
“The IDF responded with at least one missile. No casualties were reported,” he said. “Subsequently, the IDF bulldozer and excavator carried out earthworks to clear the area of mines and violated the Blue Line in the process.”
The incident took place at the same location where the IDF had shot at and destroyed four improvised explosive devices on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line two days earlier.
Still, the firing by the Lebanese army was a violation of the Security Council’s ceasefire resolution 1701, adopted last August after the war, de Soto said..
“The IDF also violated resolution 1701 by crossing the Blue Line,” de Soto said. “The exchange of fire posed a threat to the lives of UNIFIL troops patrolling in the area. ”
“These incidents illustrate the continued volatility of the situation in Southern Lebanon,” de Soto said.