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UN moves to calm Israeli-Lebanese tensions along Blue Line

By the CNN Wire Staff
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U.N.: Israel was on its side
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: UNIFIL chairs talks between Israelis, Lebanese
  • U.N. probe says Israel was on its side of the border in deadly clashes
  • Israeli and Lebanese troops fired on each other Tuesday
  • Differing narratives emerge from Israeli, Lebanese sides

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The United Nations moved Wednesday to calm tensions along the Blue Line separating Lebanon and Israel, a day after violence erupted.

In an extraordinary meeting, the commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, led talks between top representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces.

The meeting was held at the U.N. position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing in south Lebanon.

"UNIFIL informed the parties that a thorough investigation into yesterday's events is under way and presented its preliminary findings," UNIFIL said.

"UNIFIL urged the parties to exercise maximum restraint, avoid any action that could serve to heighten tensions, and work with UNIFIL in taking steps to prevent any recurrence of such a situation," it said.

Video: Lebanese, Israeli troops trade fire

Asarta said both parties were committed to ending hostilities and to complying with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, the agreement that ended a five-week war between the Lebanese group Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.

Resolution 1701, which was intended to resolve the 2006 conflict, bars Israel from conducting military operations in Lebanon. Israel has accused Lebanon-based Hezbollah, considered a terrorist group by the United States, of violating the resolution by smuggling arms into southern Lebanon.

The United Nations said Tuesday's violence broke out after Israel announced it planned to cut down a tree near the Blue Line, the line of demarcation that Resolution 1701 requires both sides to respect. UNIFIL said Wednesday that the tree was in Israeli territory.

A Lebanese army unit stopped the Israelis, and U.N. peacekeepers intervened, Lebanon's official National News Agency said.

The Lebanese army said it asked the U.N. force to arbitrate the issue, but the Israeli forces didn't comply and instead entered Lebanese territory. That led the Lebanese army to open fire, with Israeli forces returning artillery fire and hitting a house in the village of Odaise.

An Israeli officer was killed. The National News Agency said two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed.

"The exchange of fire started, although we did our best to prevent it," Alain Le Roy, the world body's top peacekeeping official, told reporters in New York.

The U.N. announcement today clearly corroborates the Israeli version of events.
--Mark Regev

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon and the Palestinians Wednesday that Israel would react with force to what he called violent provocation against its citizens.

"I want to make it clear to the Hamas and to the Lebanese government that they are responsible, that we see them responsible for the violent provocation against our soldiers," Netanyahu said.

"Do not test our determination to protect the citizens of Israel and its soldiers. Our policy is clear: Israel will react and will continue to react with force to any attack against its citizens and soldiers," he said.

Netanyahu appealed to the international community to support Israel's right to defend itself.

"The U.N. announcement today clearly corroborates the Israeli version of events," said Mark Regev, an Israeli government spokesman, in a written statement. "Our routine activity yesterday was conducted entirely SOUTH of the frontier -- on the Israeli side -- and that the Lebanese army opened fire without any provocation or justification whatsoever."

But UNIFIL said, "The investigations are still ongoing" and the body's findings will be released only after they conclude.

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said Israel violated U.N. Resolution 1701 in crossing the Blue Line and by bombing a Lebanese army checkpoint in Odaise. He said Israeli aggression needs "to be confronted, whatever the sacrifices are" and that he will pursue the issue diplomatically.

Meanwhile, Egypt blamed the Palestinians for this week's rocket attacks on Red Sea port cities in Israel and Jordan, the official MENA news agency reported.

This aggression proves once more that Israel has always been seeking to destabilize security and stability in Lebanon and the region.
--Syria's Bashar al-Assad
RELATED TOPICS
  • Lebanon
  • Israel
  • United Nations

A senior Jordanian official told CNN that Egyptian investigations proved that Palestinian factions from Gaza were behind a rocket attack in Aqaba.

One person was killed and five others wounded when a rocket landed in front of a hotel, the official Jordanian news agency, Petra, reported.

Several apparent rocket explosions also were heard in the nearby Israeli city of Eilat, the Israeli military reported. No damage or injuries were reported.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri called the Egyptians "unprofessional and unreliable" and said they were politically driven to justify the blockade of Gaza.

CNN's Saad Abedine, Nada Husseini and Michal Zippori contributed to this report.