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Israeli, Lebanese Forces Clash on Border

There has been a deadly flare-up of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire in an incident that broke years of relative calm on the border. There are conflicting accounts of what happened.

Israeli version of events

The Israeli army says its troops came under sniper fire during a routine operation on Israel's side of the frontier. An Israeli battalion commander was killed and another officer seriously wounded.

Army spokesman Avi Benayahu told Israel Radio this was an unprecedented provocation by the Lebanese Army and a blatant violation of ceasefire agreements.

Lebanese version of events

The Lebanese military says it soldiers opened fire when the Israelis strayed across the border to cut down a tree. Lebanon accused Israel of aggression and said the army would act to defend the nation's sovereign borders.

Israel's reaction was swift. Troops responded with light arms fire and artillery. Then a helicopter fired missiles at several Lebanese armored vehicles. Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed.

Fighting is rare

It was the most serious clash on the border since the Lebanon War four years ago, when Israel battled the Islamic guerrilla group Hezbollah. But fighting between the Israeli and Lebanese armies is extremely rare.

The U.N. peacekeeping force in South Lebanon, UNIFIL, sought to calm tensions. "The important aspect of what we have been doing today, our immediate priority, was to restore calm in the area; and we are still urging both parties to exercise maximum restraint," said UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti.

The head of Israel's northern command said he does not expect an escalation. The general said the Lebanese Army asked for a cease-fire, and therefore, he believes this was a "one-time event."