Fire in the north: A day after rockets were fired at Eilat, loud explosions were reported on the northern border as Israeli and Lebanese forces engaged in massive exchanges of fire.
Security sources and witnesses in Lebanon said two Lebanese soldiers and a local journalist were killed in the clash.
|Clash on Lebanon border (Video: Reuters)|
The fire erupted after IDF soldiers performing routine operations in a border-area enclave within Israeli territory came under fire. Some frightened northern residents rushed for cover in secured rooms and bomb shelters. Many locals informed Ynet of loud explosions heard in the region.
Kiryat Shmona resident Ofir Shukrun told Ynet: "I heard loud explosions. We saw a cloud of smoke …now there are planes flying above us toward Lebanon."
Another northern resident said he heard at least 15 explosions.
"Some sounded very close. I see smoke in Lebanese territory," he said.
Metula resident Gad Erez said: "I heard massive shooting starting at 12.25 pm – some 10 explosions along with automatic fire – until about 1 pm. I can see a mushroom of smoke on the northern border from Kfar Giladi to Misgav Am.
"There was no siren and we weren't prepared for this," he said.
Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka spoke of a "feeling of confusion and uncertainty" I the wake of the military flare-up.
"Many parents arrived at the swimming pool to pick up their children…I am in constant touch with senior officials at the IDF Northern Command, and as an initial step decided to alert all the heads of emergency units operating in the area, in order to be ready for any development," he said.
Smoke billows on Lebanon border (Photo: Ohad Yom Tov)
Northern District Police Commander Major-General Shimon Koren attempted to play down the incident.
"There is tension in the air, but we are sticking to routine," he said. "Despite reports of explosions by residents, no landings were detected in the vicinity thus far. We are currently assessing the situation with IDF officers while monitoring the situation on the ground."
Lebanese sources also reported exchanges of fire between Israeli and Lebanese forces. According to one report, the Lebanese Army fired at an Israel tank.
The IDF fired four rockets that fell near a Lebanese army position in the village of Adaysseh and the Lebanese army fired back," a security official in the area told AFP. According to eyewitnesses, the shells hit a Lebaense house.
He said one Lebanese soldier and one civilian were wounded.
A Lebanese army spokesman said the clashes erupted after Israeli soldiers attempted to uproot a tree on the Lebanese side of the border.
"The Israelis began to fire and we responded," he said.
According to the AFP correspondent, soldiers from the Indonesian contingent of the UNIFIL forces in the area tried to calm the situation, unsuccessfully.
UN peacekeepers in Lebanon called on the Lebanese and Israeli armies to exercise "maximum restraint" following the border incident.
"There's been an exchange of fire between the Lebanese army and the Israeli army along the Blue Line," UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti told Reuters.
"The main priority of the mission at the moment is to restore calm in the area and the Deputy Force Commander Santi Bonfanti is in contact with the LAF (Lebanese Armed Force) and IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) command urging for maximum restraint," Tenenti said.
Notably, the clash erupted after Israeli forces were operating in a border-area enclave in Israeli territory. The army recently said such operations were necessary in order to prevent Hezbollah from taking advantage of vulnerable spots in the region.
"If we don't operate within the enclaves on the northern border, we will create a dangerous vacuum that Hezbollah might use," a senior officer at the northern border said recently.
"Since the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War, the IDF has been operating routinely on the northern border in both overt and covert operations, which include mainly infrastructure work aimed at minimizing the weak spots Hezbollah can utilize. This is exactly what happened four years ago during the abduction of reserve soldiers Eldad Regev and Udi Goldwasser," he added.
Hagai Einav, Hanan Greenberg, Roee Nahmias, AFP and Reuters contributed to the story.