Last updated: 16 December, 2013

Israeli soldier killed by cross-border fire from Lebanon

The UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon said Monday that a border shooting that killed an Israeli soldier appeared to be “an individual action”, as officers of the two armies met.

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) statement came after a meeting it convened at its post near the Ras al-Naqoura border crossing, bringing together senior Lebanese and Israeli army officers.

Israel accused a Lebanese army soldier of opening fire across the sensitive border separating the two countries and killing one of its troops on Sunday.

“All the circumstances of this incident are not clear at this time, but preliminary findings indicate that it was an individual action by a soldier in contravention of the existing operational rules and procedures,” said the UNIFIL commander, Major General Paolo Serra.

He said he was “encouraged by the full cooperation… received from them (the two sides) in restoring calm in the area.”

“I stressed at the meeting that this must remain an isolated incident.”

The shooting was the first time an Israeli soldier had been killed along the border with Lebanon in more than three years, sparking calls for calm from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

But commentators said it was unlikely to spark a confrontation.

The Israeli army said the soldier was shot by Lebanese troops as he was driving a civilian vehicle along a section of the border near Rosh HaNikra on the Mediterranean coast.

The crossing is known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqoura.

In a statement, the UN chief said UNIFIL was investigating the incident in cooperation with the two armies, and urged the sides to remain calm.

“The secretary General reminds the Lebanese Armed Forces of their responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 1701 and strongly urges both sides to exercise restraint,” he said of the resolution which ended hostilities in 2006.

Israel filed a protest with UNIFIL over the incident which it described as an “outrageous breach” of its sovereignty.

And the Israeli military said it had “heightened its state of preparedness” and would maintain its “right to exercise self-defence”.

Israel’s army said troops searching the area on Sunday, shortly after the shooting, had fired towards two suspects who were standing on the other side of the border, hitting one of them.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the shooter was understood to be “a Lebanese soldier”.

“We hold the Lebanese government and Lebanese army responsible for what happens on their side,” he said.

The Israeli soldier, 31-year-old Master Sergeant Shlomi Cohen, was to be laid to rest at a cemetery in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on Monday evening.

Neither side seeking confrontation

There was no immediate reaction from the Lebanese army but it issued a statement on Monday saying an Israeli drone had violated Lebanese airspace in the same area shortly after the incident.

Meanwhile, Lebanese troops were stationed at their position close to where the shooting occurred.

Israeli commentator Amos Harel wrote in Haaretz newspaper that the shooting was unlikely to spark violence across the border.

“Neither Israel nor Hezbollah are seeking a comprehensive military confrontation, and the Lebanese government surely does not want to be drawn into such a conflict,” he said.

Israel’s border with Lebanon has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with the Shiite movement Hezbollah.

The last time a soldier was killed there was in August 2010, when two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist also died.

In August, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosion some 400 metres (yards) inside Lebanese territory, in a blast claimed by Hezbollah.

Last week, Hezbollah said one of its top leaders was killed near Beirut and blamed Israel for his murder — a charge denied by Israel, which warned against any retaliation.

UNIFIL troops were deployed along the border following the 34-day war in 2006 which killed some 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.