Source: The Daily Star – Lebanon- Hezbollah fighters attacked an Israeli military convoy Wednesday in the occupied Shebaa Farms, in south Lebanon, killing at least two soldiers and wounding seven, in retaliation for Israel’s recent airstrike in the Golan Heights.
A U.N. Spanish peacekeeper was also killed in the heavy exchange of fire that followed the Hezbollah attack, as UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Luciano Portolano urged “maximum restraint” from all parties to prevent escalation on the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, Reuters reported.
Media reports had earlier said that four Israeli soldiers were killed in the attack.
U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon Sigrid Kaag called on all parties “to refrain from any actions that could destabilize the situation further.”
“All parties are strongly urged to continue to abide by their obligations under Security Council resolution 1701,” Kaag said of the resolution that put an end to the 2006 summer war between Lebanon and Israel.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry issued a statement confirming Lebanon’s commitment to resolution 1701, but Israel’s Foreign Minister said his country must respond “harshly and disproportionately.”
Hezbollah claimed the attack on the Israeli military convoy in a statement.
“At 11:25 [Wednesday morning] the Qunaitra Martyrs unit targeted with appropriate missile weapons an Israeli military convoy comprising several vehicles and [transporting] Zionist officers and soldiers causing the destruction of several vehicles and inflicting many casualties on the enemy,” the brief statement read.
According to Israeli media, a number of Israeli Army troops were being treated with “light-to-moderate wounds” at a hospital in Safed.
About two hours after the initial attack, Israeli warplanes carried out mock air raids over the scene of the attack as their soldiers lobbed shells into Shebaa Farms and the surrounding hills.
The shelling coincided with news that a Lebanese shepherd went missing in the area.
“The ball now is in the Israeli court if the Israelis launch a wide scale response, Hezbollah will respond in kind,” a senior political source told The Daily Star. “At this stage we cannot completely rule out this spiraling out of this incident into a full fledged war,” he added.
The source said Hezbollah is expected to release a second statement that includes pictures and footage of the ambush.
A security source told The Daily Star that 30 shells were fired from the Israeli side across the Lebanese border following the midday attack that struck a convoy, damaging two vehicles. Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the attack destroyed 9 vehicles.
UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti confirmed that a peacekeeper was killed without disclosing his nationality.
“A U.N. peacekeeper perished in the general area of Ghajar,” Tenenti said.
He said UNIFIL is yet to determine the circumstances surrounding the death. But Spain’s president Mariano Rajoy Brey confirmed the death of a Spanish soldier in Lebanon and said in a Twitter message that he sent his condolences to the soldier’s family.
Tenenti said UNIFIL force commander was in “close contact” with Lebanon and Israel and was “actively engaged with all the parties, urging restraint in order to prevent any escalation of the situation.”
No shelling was heard after calls for restraint came out around 2 p.m. However, Israeli warplanes still hovered overhead.
Schools in the area have been closed, and Syrian refugees were relocating to a safer region in anticipation of an escalation.
In Beirut, celebratory gunfire could be heard in the afternoon.
Eye witnesses said Hezbollah responded to shelling of Lebanese territories from an Israeli position in the Ruweisat al-Alam area in the Shebaa Farms with projectiles.
The source said at least eight shells landed in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms and several others crashed into nearby Majidieh, a town mainly comprised primarily of agricultural land along the Wazzani River and opposite occupied Ghajar.
Israel’s army acknowledged that an anti-tank missile hit an Israeli military vehicle near the Lebanon border.
The incident came several hours after Israel launched an airstrike in Syria amid tensions that have escalated in the frontier area over the past 10 days.
According to Israeli daily Haaretz, the attacks took place as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the southern city of Sderot, laying the cornerstone for a new settlement. “At these moments, the IDF is responding to the events in the north. Look what happened here. Not far from the city of Sderot, in Gaza, Hamas was hit by the strongest blow it ever received last summer… Security comes before all else. Security is the foundation for everything.”
Netanyahu cut short his visit to Sderot and was headed to the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv for consultations, Haaretz said. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon also convened a security briefing in the wake of the attacks.
Israeli media reported that flights had been suspended at the airports in Rosh Pina and Haifa.
On Tuesday, at least two rockets from Syria hit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and Israel responded with artillery fire.
The attack comes after an Israeli airstrike on a Hezbollah convoy near the Golan Heights on Jan. 18 that killed an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general along with six Hezbollah fighters, including the son of slain Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh.