One Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded Wednesday, when their tank drove over a land mine in southern Lebanon. In an incident yet to be confirmed by Israeli military authorities, another Israeli soldier was reportedly shot in the head in a military operation just inside Lebanon. Violence also flared elsewhere in the region testing the U.N. - mediated ceasefire.
The Israeli casualties took place about five kilometers inside Lebanon, when a tank patrol hit a land mine near the village of Blida. Some reports say the mine may have been planted by the Israeli army to prevent Hezbollah fighters from approaching the border.
In what is being seen as a more serious incident, there was a heavy exchange of fire lasting about three hours in the Shebaa Farms area. Shebaa Farms is a disputed enclave claimed by Lebanon, but occupied by Israel. The Israeli government insists the area actually belongs to Syria. Israel seized the territory during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and ever since it has been a flashpoint for confrontation in the region.
Lebanese troops occupied the village of Shebaa last week as part of their deployment in the area. However, Israel still has hundreds of soldiers in southern Lebanon, and says they will remain there until there are enough U.N. peacekeepers in the region to help the Lebanese army meet the obligations of the U.N. mediated ceasefire, which calls for the demilitarization of southern Lebanon, and the curtailment of weapons shipments to Hezbollah. U.N. Envoy Terje Roed Larson, who has been shuttling between Beirut and Jerusalem in an effort to keep the cease fire from collapsing, says the truce is taking hold but dangers remain.
"Unfortunately the more the success of the deployment and the establishment of this authority, the higher the chances are that some actors might be interested in derailing this process," he said. "This is why we have to be realistic here. There are reasons for optimism, but there are also reasons for pessimism."
The U.N. rules of engagement under consideration for the peacekeepers are reported to allow them to open fire in self-defense, protect civilians and provide support to the Lebanese army to stop foreign forces from crossing the Lebanese border. However U.N. diplomats have been unable to get Israel to lift its air and sea embargo of Lebanon, which Israeli officials say will not be eased, until international forces deploy at border crossing points and airports to prevent weapons from being diverted to Hezbollah.