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LEBANON: Border skirmish a grim reminder of Lebanon's precarious peace

Ap peacekeeper

Tuesday's deadly border skirmish between Israeli and Lebanese forces was defused without intervention from the militant group Hezbollah, but the incident served as a grim reminder of the violent and precarious flash points between Lebanon and Israel.

Clashes broke out near the southern Lebanese village of Adeisseh when Israeli troops attempted to uproot a tree in an ambiguous border area. The fighting resulted in the death of two Lebanese soldiers, a Lebanese journalist and an Israeli officer.

The United Nations peacekeeping force that monitors the border released a statement on Wednesday explaining that the tree in question was located on the Israeli side of the Blue Line, and it was successfully uprooted by the Israelis.

Late Tuesday night, as it became apparent that the fighting had been contained, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah told a tense nation that he had ordered his fighters to stand down–this time.

"If the army is attacked by Israel where the resistance is present, the resistance will not remain silent," he warned. "The resistance will cut off the Israeli hand that extends to [attack] the Lebanese Army."

When news of fighting on the border broke yesterday, many in Lebanon initially thought Hezbollah and Israel had decided to finish what was started during the devastating July war of 2006. Reports of imminent war have been circulating for the last year at least, and Israeli leaders have threatened to target all of Lebanon in the next round of fighting.

"This was a border skirmish ... but the next one is going to be very major and very destructive on both sides," said Timur Goksel, a former senior adviser to UN peacekeeping troops in Lebanon.

Goksel went on to say that as long as the fighting did not spread beyond the Lebanese and Israeli armies, which communicate regularly through the UN, it was unlikely to escalate.

"You cannot start a war that can be deadly for both sides based on a border skirmish with the national army," he said. “It's not a militia; it’s a national army that’s recognized and trained and equipped by Western countries friendly to Israel, so of course you have to be careful with these people.... I don’t see any regional ramifications from this incident.”

Widely circulated footage of the incident appears to show an Israeli crane reaching over the Israeli security fence to cut down the tree, drawing fire from Lebanese troops who claimed the Israelis crossed the UN-demarcated Blue Line dividing the two warring countries. Israel says it returned fire with light arms, artillery, and missiles.

The Blue Line was drawn in 2000 after the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon and has since been used as a de-facto border, but does not follow the Israeli security fence in several contested areas, often leading to misunderstandings.

But for many Lebanese who spoke to Babylon and Beyond, the location of the tree, or the question of who fired first, was beside the point. Many saw the incident as another example of Israeli aggression in an intractable and ongoing conflict.

"Of course we're afraid of war; we're afraid of Israel," said Fatima Ghaddar, a 20-year-old student. "Only when Israel is gone will Lebanon be able to relax."

Elliott's home appliance shop in an upscale neighborhood of East Beirut was doing a brisk business until about noon on Tuesday when news of the fighting broke.

"At first I thought Hezbollah had started something," said Elliot, 39, who declined to give his family name. "I swear, I went online and applied to emigrate to the U.S." said Elliot. "I'm not proud of the army; I'm not proud of anything Lebanese."

Majida Faqih, a 39-year-old homemaker, said she was glad Hezbollah didn't get involved in the fighting.

"If they had joined in it would have escalated," she said.

But Rabia Khoury, 52, said he would welcome a Hezbollah intervention.

"If the army is being attacked, [Hezbollah] should get involved," he said. "If it happens again they should."

-- Meris Lutz in Beirut

A UN peacekeeper waves a  flag as Israeli troops patrol the border Credit: Ronith Daher / Associated Press
Comments () | Archives (19)

Don't ask a person which obviously you don't have a respect for his/her opinions, take it up with UN to find out why they didn't notify their own and Lebanon's soldiers on the ground!

Joe, your comment isn't worth the virtual newspaper it's printed on. According to the UN, the Israelis COORDINATED their actions with UNIFIL. What part about this do you not understand?

A picture is worth a thousand words, anything between border fences is no man's land and by definition that's a territory where no one suppose to cross in times of hostilities, try to cross in to North and South Korea no man's land and see what happens since for grunts on the ground that's the only obvious marker, initially even UN grunts on the ground were telling Israelis soldiers to stop crossing!

reply to lipservicei.

i think between you and stefano888 this should be called the joke page ,instead of comments,because you are both quite funny,badly informed,but worth a laugh.

Umm...I think you mean what is essentially the opposite of "diffused": defused. :)

"The hour of judgment shall not happen until the Muslims fight the Jews. The Muslims shall kill the Jews to the point that the Jew shall hide behind a big rock or a tree and the rock or tree shall call on the Muslim saying: hey, O Muslim there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him, except the Gharqad tree which will not say, for it is the tree of Jews."

You mean, this type of "significant" tree ?

You have a wooden head and a stone instead of a heart Stefano.

Stefano88:; Have you checked your medications lately. A significant tree? Or was it just a bush? Or maybe it appeared as a tree but was covertly acting as a camouflage for a Hizbully? Get a life! Nothing is so hard to understand. Fences can't always be placed exactly on borders (especailly when a patrol road has to be built along the Israeli side of it) and foliage close to the fence must be trimmed so no one can hide close to the fence. The tree was on the Israeli side, UNIFIL was notified, and the LAF invited journalists and planned an ambush. There was nothing significant about the tree, what is significant is the type of drivel that passes as reasoned discussion by you and those like you.

BTW, Lebanese hunters have pretty well decimated most of the song birds and wildlife in Southern Lebanon. And the so-called "palestinians" have a pretty bad track record with environmental issues too, Accuracy isn't your strong point it appears.

"Now, the Israelis know how it feels to be killed and maimed when they stray to close to a disputed border, just like in Gaza" is a comment coming from a sick mind. The officer murdered (yes, murdered) had a wife and children and wasn't out to hurt anyone. If soldiers of the LAF want to play "games", then they should take into account that two sides can play them. As for the Gazans, no one "strays" close to the fence there.


The skirmish "was diffused without intervention from the militant group Hezbollah" Really? What a surprise. Since when has Hezbollah been a group that diffuses anything other than the bombs it makes to kill innocent civilians?

More than a few key facts are missing or misstated, among others that Israel advised UNIFIL and UNIFIL advised the Lebanese army of the removal of the tree which is on Israel's side of the border in advance of taking action. The Lebanese army officer shot was wrongful and a deliberate provocation.

Shame on the LA Times for publishing this nonsense.

To ABG/All But Graduation: the Lebanese love trees and support green power. The Israelis say they are liberal toward the environment, but actually have one of the worst records in polluting the environment, especially in the West Bank. As to the shootings, Israel knew that tree, particularly, and other trees, generally, had salient symbolic value and represented an understanding, just like codes, only known between the parties. And, given the context of their operation without a physical UN presence, I would call such a provocation. Now, the Israelis know how it feels to be killed and maimed when they stray to close to a disputed border, just like in Gaza.

Given the timing of such within the overall context, Israel likely attempted to provoke such a response. It has been the pattern for a long time.

Israel knew the symbolic importance of that particular tree and other trees in general along the Lebanese border and within the Occupied Territories. They and the Lebanese have had coded agreements for almost 40 years. Each side essentially knows what will provoke the other side. The timing of such was done purposely and then they went on to do further cutting along an even more ambiguously agreed upon border. The UN then reversed their early blame of responsibility, but even it is not always privy to the tacit agreements or understandings between the two sides.

Regardless of the location of the tree, it was known to have symbolic value and the UN had to have a physical presence right at the location by the fence. That was the 4 year understanding. This has been the way Israel and Lebanon have coded their cease fires for almost 2 generations.

What is it with apologists like Colm O' Toole. If Fatima meant to say that only when Israel is gone from Lebanon then Lebanon will be able to relax, she would have. Instead she said ""Only when Israel is gone will Lebanon be able to relax." For O'Toole to declare that she is talking about the Syrian owned Sheba Farms is either disingenuous or idiotic.

This was a pre-mediated attack by people with no regard for human life. Unfortunately, there will always be people who apologize for such savagery.

ah may be they thought we,had disguised ourselves as trees,
the UN forces receive daily complaints about lebanon,egypt blame hamas.
so watch out next time you decide to go out in your garden to do a bit of trimming,you might get your head blown off by an itchy trigger finger.

"In an ambiguous border area..."

It's called Israel, Meris.

Wow, LA Times. These people work for you. What a sad joke you have become.

Well really what does Israel expect? The Israeli government has spent the last year threatening to attack Lebanon. Just two weeks ago Netanyahu said that in a future war with Lebanon they would target both Hezbollah and the Lebanese Government.

So when they send Israeli soldiers up to the blue line don't be surprised if the Lebanese troops are a bit edgy.

Also regarding Paul Coleman's stupid comment, it is obvious to anyone with a knowledge of the history that Fatima is talking in the context of 2006 and Operation Litani and the subsequent occupation of Southern Lebanon during the '80's. "Only when Israel is gone will Lebanon be able to relax." Is a reference to the Sheba Farms and continues Israeli air-force flyovers of Southern Lebanon.

Reading anything more into that is a sign of paranoia or ignorance.

Border skirmish a grim reminder of Netayahu being about to stage some kind of war or major terrorist incident to worm out of peace negotiations until Obama is out of office.

"Of course we're afraid of war; we're afraid of Israel," said Fatima Ghaddar, a 20-year-old student. "Only when Israel is gone will Lebanon be able to relax."

This is why there will never be peace. The Arabs reject the Jewish state. Islamic bigotry!


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