Spain on Wednesday said Israeli fire had killed a Spanish UN peacekeeper serving in South Lebanon and called on the United Nations to fully investigate the violence, a day after Israeli prime minister vowed that Hezbollah would “pay the price” an attack in the Israeli-occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms that left at least two Israeli soldiers dead.
The UN Security Council condemned the death of the 36-year-old Spanish corporal who died when Israel shelled Lebanon with a combined aerial and ground strikes after an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) convoy in the Shebaa Farms, a mountainous, narrow sliver of land illegally occupied by Israel since 1967.
“It is clear that this was because of the escalation of the violence and it came from the Israeli side,” Spanish Ambassador to the UN Roman Oyarzun told reporters.
The Spanish envoy said he had asked for a full investigation of the United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeper’s death during an emergency meeting of the council called by France to discuss ways to defuse tensions between Israel and Lebanon.
The violence raised fears of another all-out conflict between Lebanon and Israel in a region already wracked by fighting in Syria and Iraq.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for “maximum calm and restraint,” urging all sides to “act responsibly to prevent any escalation in an already tense regional environment,” a UN statement said.
“Our objective is to engage toward de-escalation and to prevent further escalation of the situation,” French Ambassador to the UN Francois Delattre told reporters.
France presented a draft statement to council members, but after meeting for over an hour the council issued a terse condemnation of the peacekeeper’s death and made no mention of de-escalation efforts.
Discussions regarding another council statement on the situation were ongoing.
The 10,000-strong UNIFIL mission, which monitors the border between Lebanon and Occupied Palestine, said it had observed six rockets fired towards Occupied Palestine from southern Lebanon and that Israeli forces “returned artillery fire in the same general area.”
Hezbollah said it had targeted an Israeli military convoy “transporting several Zionist soldiers and officers.”
“There were several casualties in the enemy’s ranks,” Hezbollah said.
According to Israeli figures, two soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded.
The Hezbollah brigade which carried out the attack, the Quneitra martyrs of the Islamic Resistance, was named in reference to an illegal Israeli airstrike on the Syrian city of Quneitra on January 18 that killed six fighters of Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah, as well as an Iranian Revolutionary Guard general, indicating that Wednesday’s attack was in retaliation for the killing of its members.
Meanwhile, Lebanese security sources told AFP that Israeli forces then hit several Lebanese villages along the border.
Clouds of smoke could be seen rising from al-Majidiyeh village, one of the hardest hit. There were no casualties.
Senior peacekeeping official Edmond Mulet told council members that the attacks were a “serious violation” of ceasefire agreements, which Israel violates on a daily basis.
Israeli warplanes routinely violate Lebanon’s airspace and have launched several attacks against Syrian targets in recent months, some reportedly carried out from over Lebanon. An infographic of the number of Israeli overflights in Lebanon in 2011 showed that Israeli planes breached Lebanese sovereignty roughly five to 10 times a week on average that year.
On Thursday, Lebanon’s National News Agency (NNA), said Israeli fighter jets penetrated deep into Lebanese airspace, startling residents as the jets flew over the capital Beirut.
Israeli jets were also seen flying over southern Lebanese towns.
In 2013, Lebanon filed an official complaint to the United Nations over the regular Israeli violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Netanyahu: Hezbollah will “pay the price”
Israel claimed on Thursday it had allegedly received a message from Hezbollah that it was backing away from further violence.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon claimed Israel had received a message from a UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon stating that Hezbollah was not interested in further escalation.
“Indeed, a message was received,” he said. “There are lines of coordination between us and Lebanon via UNIFIL and such a message was indeed received from Lebanon.”
In Beirut, Hezbollah officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
“I can’t say whether the events are behind us,” Yaalon added in a separate radio interview. “Until the area completely calms down, the Israel Defense Forces (sic) will remain prepared and ready.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Lebanon’s Hezbollah it will pay the “full price.”
“Those behind today’s attack will pay the full price,” Netanyahu’s office quoted him as saying at a meeting with Israel’s top security brass Wednesday evening.
Netanyahu also threatened the government of Lebanon and to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The government of Lebanon and the Assad regime share responsibility for the consequences of attacks originating in their territory against the state of Israel,” he said.
The United States stood by Israel after the exchange of fire and condemned Hezbollah’s shelling of the Israeli military convoy.
“We support Israel’s legitimate right to self-defense and continue to urge all parties to respect the blue line between Israel and Lebanon,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.
EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini, however, appealed for an “immediate cessation of hostilities.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam condemned the Israeli military escalation in south Lebanon and expressed concern regarding the “aggressive intentions expressed by the Israeli officials and the deterioration of the situation it could lead to in Lebanon,” the NNA reported.
“Lebanon deems the international family responsible for repressing any Israeli tendency to gamble with the security and stability in the area.”
Moreover, Hezbollah’s attack was hailed by the Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
“We affirm Hezbollah’s right to respond to the Israeli occupation,” Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said, while Jihad’s Quds Brigade praised the attack as “heroic.”
On Wednesday, Israeli security sources said at least one house had been hit in the divided village of Ghajar, which straddles the border between the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Lebanon.
“Three houses were hit by rockets,” Hussein, 31, said, relaying what he had heard by telephone from relatives in the village of 2,000 inhabitants.
He said a number of villagers had been wounded but that he did not know how badly.
Other frantic family members argued with police to be allowed in to collect their children, who had been locked inside the village school for their own safety.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had previously warned Israel against any “stupid” moves in Lebanon and Syria, vowing to retaliate and make sure Israel paid the price for any aggression against the neighboring countries.
Israeli airstrikes on Syria “target the whole of the resistance axis,” Nasrallah said in reference to Syria, Iran and his government, who are sworn enemies of Israel.
“The repeated bombings that struck several targets in Syria are a major violation, and we consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria,” he said, adding the “axis is capable of responding” anytime.
Since the January 18 airstrike, troops and civilians in northern Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine and the occupied Golan Heights have been on heightened alert and Israel has deployed an Iron Dome rocket interceptor unit near the Syrian border.
Israel occupied most of southern Lebanon for 22 years until 2000 and the two countries are still technically at war.
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said Wednesday’s attack was the “most severe” Israel had faced since 2006, when its war with Hezbollah killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and some 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Nasrallah is expected to deliver a speech on January 30 regarding the Israeli strikes.
(AFP, Reuters, Al-Akhbar)