TEL AVIV/BEIRUT (dpa) – The Israel-Lebanon border remained tense Thursday amid international efforts to avoid an escalation following the worst exchange of fire between Israeli soldiers and the Iran-backed Hezbollah militia since the 2006 war.
Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish UN peacekeeper were killed Wednesday. The violence started when Hezbollah launched anti-tank missiles at an Israeli convoy driving along the border near the village of Ghajar, on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights.
Two Israeli military vehicles were hit directly, killing a company commander with the rank of captain and a sergeant. Seven soldiers were also wounded.
Israel responded with artillery fire at Hezbollah positions in south-eastern Lebanon.
Spanish UN ambassador Roman Oyarzun Marchesi told reporters in New York that the fire that killed the Spanish blue-helmet “came from the Israeli side.” The death was being investigated.
The Hezbollah attack was in revenge for a January 18 airstrike on the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights that killed six of its members, as well as Iranian general.
Israel has not denied that it carried out the airstrike, which exposed Hezbollah and Iranian activity on the Golan.
With international concern mounting, an Israeli government official said Thursday Israel was not interested in “further escalating the situation” and in responding further to Wednesday’s anti-tank missile attack. Israel also received signals that Hezbollah was not interested in a further escalation.
“We received an approach via UNIFIL via the channels of coordination between Lebanon and Israel that from their point of view the event is over, but we of course are prepared for any development,” Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said.
The Israeli military will nevertheless remain on high alert.
Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam said he had also received assurances from Arab and Western diplomats that the latest clashes would not lead to a full-fledged war.
UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag and the US and British ambassadors to Beirut, David Hale and Tom Fletcher, told Salam that the international community was exerting every effort to preserve stability in Lebanon and along the border with Israel.
At an emergency meeting in New York, the UN Security Council condemned “in the strongest terms” the killing of the peacekeeper.
Lebanon’s Middle East Airlines (MEA) resumed flights to Baghdad on Thursday after halting them earlier in the week when bullets hit a plane as it was landing in the Iraqi capital.
“We have restarted the flights,” an MEA official said. The national carrier flies daily between Beirut and Baghdad.
On Tuesday, six airlines suspended flights to Baghdad following the shooting incident.
Iraqi Transport Minister Bayan Jabor said the plane operated by budget carrier Dubai Aviation Corp, known as flydubai, was hit at an altitude of 600 metres (2,000 feet) by gunfire from what he said was likely to be a light machinegun.