Efforts to ease Israel-Lebanon border tension after shooting
JERUSALEM — The day after the fatal cross-border shooting of an Israeli soldier by a member of the Lebanese armed forces, both sides tried to ease tensions and downplayed reports that Israel may have returned fire.
On Sunday evening, shots fired from the Lebanese side killed Shlomi Cohen, 31, an on-duty Israeli soldier driving in a military vehicle between army posts along the border.
Military officials in Lebanon confirmed the shooter was a member of the Lebanese army. Meanwhile, uncertainty surrounded reports that a Lebanese soldier or soldiers may have been shot by Israeli forces.
Following the initial shooting, Israel lodged a complaint with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and demanded an investigation of the incident. UNIFIL called an urgent tripartite meeting at United Nations headquarters in Naqura, bringing together senior officials from the peacekeeping mission along with Lebanese and Israeli military officials.
Preliminary findings indicate that the shooting was “an individual action by a soldier” against operation rules, Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra, head of the U.N. force, said in a statement. The grave event must remain “an isolated incident,” Serra said, urging a timely conclusion of the investigation.
A similar message came from the Lebanese army, which said the incident was the result of “individual behavior on the part of one of the soldiers” and will be investigated. A statement on the army’s website stressed its commitment to preserving stability of border areas in coordination with international forces.
All parties were interested in “de-escalating the situation as opposed to the opposite,” Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israeli military, said Monday.
Lerner also acknowledged that Israeli forces, combing the area in the aftermath of the incident, fired a couple of shots toward suspicious movements, later determined to be members of the Lebanese armed forces. They reported one hit, Lerner said.
However, in a telephone interview, UNIFIL spokeswoman Andrea Tenenti said information received from both parties did not include any references to casualties regarding anyone but the Israeli soldier.
Earlier, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon had said Israel “will not tolerate violation of our sovereignty on any border, certainly not the Lebanese border.”
While parties appeared to make concerted efforts to contain the incident and keep it from sparking wider conflict, Israeli fighter jets circled Lebanese skies Monday morning, violating Lebanese airspace, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.
Staff writer Patrick McDonnell and special correspondent Nabih Bulos in Beirut contributed to this report.
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