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Lebanon: Border shooter acted alone
Sri Lankan UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol the border in Naqoura, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
Sri Lankan UNIFIL peacekeepers patrol the border in Naqoura, Monday, Dec. 16, 2013. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)
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BEIRUT: Lebanon and the U.N. peacekeeping force sought Monday to defuse tensions with Israel, saying a Lebanese soldier who shot and killed an Israeli soldier on the border had acted alone.

The Lebanese Army said the shooting in the border area of Ras Naqoura Sunday night resulted from an individual action by a soldier, while stressing commitment to preserving stability on the Lebanese-Israeli border in cooperation with the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon in line with Security Council Resolution 1701.

“The Army Command indicates that what happened [in Ras Naqoura] resulted from an individual behavior by one of the soldiers. A military committee is investigating the incident,” the military said in a statement, adding that the Army was coordinating with UNIFIL to contain the repercussions of the incident.

“This command reaffirms the Army’s full commitment to the provisions of Security Council Resolution 1701, particularly maintaining stability in border areas in cooperation and coordination with U.N. troops,” the statement said.

The terse statement did not offer a motive for the Lebanese soldier opening fire on an Israeli patrol Sunday night.

Also, the statement did not comment on Israeli reports claiming that Israeli troops shot two Lebanese soldiers just after midnight Sunday near the area where the Israeli was killed.

A Lebanese security source said no Lebanese soldiers were shot shortly after the Israeli soldier was killed.

President Michel Sleiman followed up with the Army Command and the Defense Ministry on “the latest information on the situation in the border with a view to safeguarding sovereignty in the face of Israeli threats and ensuring full commitment to the implementation of Resolution 1701,” the National News Agency reported.

In occupied Jerusalem, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon held the Lebanese government and Army responsible for the death of the soldier.

“We will demand that the Lebanese Army first of all provide an explanation of exactly what happened there, and whether this is really a rogue soldier, what they did with him and what the Lebanese Army plans to do to prevent incidents of this type,” Yaalon said.

The Israeli military identified the soldier as Shlomi Cohen, 31.

It said Cohen was fatally shot by a Lebanese Army sniper near the tourist site of Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean Sea.

But a security source in Lebanon said the Israeli soldier was killed after an Israeli army unit attempted to cross the border in Ras Naqoura.

UNIFIL, after hosting an extraordinary tripartite meeting between senior Lebanese, Israeli and U.N. military officers to ease tensions, also said the Lebanese soldier acted alone in the border incident.

“All the circumstances of this incident are not clear at this time, but preliminary findings indicate that it was an individual action by a soldier in contravention of the existing operational rules and procedures,” UNIFIL Commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra said in a statement after chairing the tripartite meeting held at the U.N. headquarters in Ras Naqoura.

“At this stage, it is imperative that UNIFIL’s investigation in cooperation with the parties, and in particular with the LAF [Lebanese Armed Forces], is concluded as soon as possible.”

United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon Derek Plumbly addressed the meeting on behalf of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A UNIFIL statement said the tripartite meeting was intended to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding the incident, “in order to fully restore the cessation of hostilities and to discuss measures to prevent such incidents from recurring ”

Serra, who described the shooting as “grave,” stressed at the meeting it “must remain an isolated incident.”

“We discussed concrete steps to strengthen the existing security arrangements along the Blue Line to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” he added.

The UNIFIL commander said he was encouraged by the discussion at the meeting and by the way the Lebanese and Israeli parties approached the issues at hand.

“They affirmed their full commitment to the cessation of hostilities,” Serra said. “In this context, the parties emphasized their interest in preserving calm and stability along the Blue Line and pledged to work with UNIFIL to strengthen security arrangements to this end.”

Serra added, “I have been engaged with my counterparts on both sides throughout the developments following the incident and I was encouraged by the full cooperation I received from them in restoring calm in the area.”

The shooting was the first time an Israeli soldier had been killed along the border with Lebanon in more than three years, sparking calls for calm from United Nations chief Ban.

Plumbly, who met with caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati at the Grand Serail, drew attention to the statement issued by Ban, who deplored the border incident and called for calm.

Noting that the Lebanese and Israeli sides were cooperating with UNIFIL to ascertain facts, Ban reminded the Lebanese Army of its responsibilities under Resolution 1701 and strongly urged both sides to exercise restraint.

France also called for calm and restraint on the border between Lebanon and Israel following the killing of the Israeli soldier. A statement issued by the French Foreign Ministry urged the two sides to respect and implement Resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day war between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

In occupied Jerusalem, Israeli army spokeswoman Lt. Libby Weiss said that in the wake of the death of the Israeli soldier, Israeli forces identified “suspicious movement” along the border just after midnight Sunday and shot two members of the Lebanese Army. She said the shooting occurred near where Cohen was killed.

The NNA said Israeli troops opened fire on a forested area on the Lebanese side of the border but did not report any Lebanese casualties.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 17, 2013, on page 1.
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