Hezbollah ready to close the door on clash with Israel, U.N. says

 Hezbollah ready to close the door on clash with Israel, U.N. says
Mourners at the grave of Israeli soldier Dor Nini in southern Israel. (Jim Hollander / European Pressphoto)

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Thursday that the United Nations had informed Israel that the Lebanese group Hezbollah was unlikely to escalate violence after deadly encounters a day earlier left three people dead, raising concern about more fighting in the Middle East.

Yaalon, who indicated the Israeli military was on alert, said the message was received through the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which deploys about 10,000 peacekeepers along the so-called Blue Line separating Lebanese and Israeli territory.


The message from Hezbollah was that "as far as they are concerned, the incident is over," Yaalon told Israel Radio.

Hezbollah targeted an Israeli military convoy Wednesday with an antitank barrage in a contested area that Israel calls Har Dov and Lebanon calls the Shabaa Farms, close to the frontiers of Lebanon, Syria and Israel. The attack left two soldiers dead and seven wounded, Israel said, in what was the Lebanese militant and political movement's most serious strike on Israeli forces since their 2006 war.

Israel responded with shelling into Lebanese territory, apparently causing the death of a Spanish peacekeeper deployed as part of the U.N. force.

Concern lingered Thursday that the cycle of strike and counterstrike might escalate into a headlong military confrontation similar to the monthlong war in 2006.

"We will maintain our level of preparedness until the situation calms entirely," Yaalon said.

He declined to comment on whether Israel would retaliate further for the killing of its troops.

There was no public comment Thursday from Hezbollah.

In Lebanon, fear that Israel might retaliate seemed to ebb as the day wore on and there was no sign of an attack. There were some reports, none official, that the leadership in Beirut had also received indirect indications that Israel was not interested in escalating the violence.

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hawkish foreign minister, urged a fiercer response. "Anyone saying the incident must be 'contained' agrees to have terror organizations control the switch of normal life for Israeli citizens," he wrote on Facebook.

But others in Israel urged restraint, noting that Hezbollah's attack Wednesday probably was a response to a Jan. 18 Israeli airstrike in Syria that killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general. Israel has stopped short of taking responsibility for the strike but had been bracing for some form of retaliation.

The Israeli military lifted most restrictions on civilian access in northern Israel and daily routine largely resumed, although a stretch along the border with Lebanon and Syria remained off-limits for citizens.

The United Nations Security Council convened after the deadly exchange and denounced the slaying of the Spanish peacekeeper. Spain has demanded an investigation of the incident and blamed Israel for the escalation that resulted in the peacekeeper's death.

The two soldiers, Yochai Kalangel and Dor Nini, were buried Thursday in Israel, and a memorial service for peacekeeper Francisco Javier Soria Toledo was held at Beirut International Airport before his body was flown home.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzachi Hanegbi met with Spain's ambassador to Israel, Fernando Carderera Soler, and conveyed condolences for the peacekeeper's death.


Sobelman is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Patrick J. McDonnell in Beirut contributed to this report.