One Israeli army officer, at least two Lebanese soldiers, and a Lebanese journalist were killed Tuesday in a clash on the border. The fighting, the most serious since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, occurred when Israeli troops attempted to cut down a tree that lay north of the 12-foot high security fence, but a few yards south of the actual border.
The United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, confirmed that it had been informed about the planned tree-cutting operation by the Israeli military and that the Lebanese Army had been notified.
The Lebanese Army admits opening fire first, but says its soldiers fired warning shots only. Israeli troops returned fire and the shooting quickly escalated.
It is not the first time that the discrepancy between the paths traced by the Israeli security fence and the border have raised tensions in the area.
The Israeli fence does not always follow the border but sometimes dips by as much as 100 yards into Israeli territory, conforming to the rugged topography of the frontier region. Israeli troops occasionally operate north of the fence but short of the border to clear vegetation or to conduct surveillance missions. The problem arises when Lebanese see Israeli troops crossing the fence and assume they have entered Lebanese territory.
Since September 2007, UNIFIL, in coordination with the Lebanese and Israeli governments, has been demarcating the “Blue Line,” the UN term for the path corresponding to the border, with blue-painted barrels. But only 24 miles of the 70 mile frontier have been marked so far, according to UNIFIL.