(CNSNews.com) – Arab and Muslim governments that accused Israel of aggression against Lebanon this week did not withdraw their accusations Wednesday, despite confirmation from U.N. peacekeepers that Lebanese troops opened fire on Israeli soldiers who were on the Israeli side of the international border.
An Israeli lieutenant-colonel was shot dead when Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) across the border opened fire Tuesday. In retaliation, Israel returned fire, killing two Lebanese sergeants and a journalist.
The two sides disputed whether the location of the Israelis when fired upon was on the Lebanese or Israeli side of the internationally recognized border, the Blue Line.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) affirmed Wednesday that the incident happen in Israeli territory, prompting the U.S. State Department to denounce the firing by the LAF as “wholly unjustified and unwarranted.”
But there was silence from the Arab and Islamic governments and organizations, which had blamed Israel for the incident.
Earlier, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Kuwait, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) all accused Israel of “aggression” against Lebanon and/or of violating Lebanon’s sovereignty.
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) says that its soldiers came under fire while cutting down trees near the border, after having notified UNIFIL in advance of the planned maintenance work.
“An LAF sniper opened fire at IDF officers observing the work, killing Lt. Col. (Res.) Dov Harari , and critically wounding Captain (Res.) Ezra Lakia,” it said.
Only then did the Israelis retaliate, according to the IDF statement.
The Lebanese account Wednesday was that while its soldiers had been first to open first, they did so with “warning shots,” and that the Israelis had then fired on their position.
An earlier statement from the LAF General Command, cited in Lebanese press reports, did not refer to warning shots. It said that after Israeli troops crossed the Blue Line and ignored UNIFIL attempts to stop them, “the Lebanese Army confronted the enemy’s forces with weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.”
The LAF named the “martyrs” as Sgt. Abdallah Tfayle, 39, and Sgt. Robert Elias el-Ashi, 31.
UNIFIL military spokesperson Lt. Col. Naresh Bhatt said Wednesday that after an investigation at the location of the firefight UNIFIL had established “that the trees being cut by the Israeli Army are located south of the Blue Line on the Israeli side.”
“The firing by Lebanese Armed Forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted,” State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told a press briefing, reiterating earlier calls on both sides to exercise restraint.
Crowley was asked about concerns that weapons provided by the U.S. to the LAF could end up being used against an ally.
“We have provided support to Lebanon to strengthen the ability of the Lebanese government to exercise its own sovereignty,” he replied. “This is in our interest. We certainly do not want to see the kind of exchanges of fire that occurred yesterday.”
Asked whether the border clash would prompt a review of U.S. assistance to the LAF, Crowley said that the U.S. wanted to make sure that there was no recurrence of Tuesday’s incident, adding, “I don’t think this fundamentally changes the support that we’re providing to the government of Lebanon.”