Tree clearance along Line of Withdrawal provokes Israel-Lebanon border clash
(4 August 2010)
On 3 August 2010 Israeli and Lebanese military forces exchanged fire along a section of the Line of Withdrawal (Blue Line) leading to the deaths of three Lebanese soldiers, a local Lebanese journalist and one Israeli army officer. Several more were wounded. Reports indicate that the exchange was prompted by a fairly routine act of tree and shrub clearance by Israeli forces. Both sides maintain separate fences and border security infrastructure on their respective sides of the Blue Line, leaving strips of land on either side between the Blue Line and their respective fences. It appears that Israeli forces were using a crane to assist in clearing trees that were obscuring video surveillance just outside the outermost Israeli fence, possibly in the area between the fence and the Blue Line. Reports suggest that Lebanese army soldiers fired warning shots and Israeli forces responded with directed fire from artillery positions, tanks and attack helicopters. Lebanon believes that the Israeli operation crossed the Blue Line into Lebanese territory prompting the warning shots, while Israel argues that its forces had been subject to an ambush. Initial reports by the UN peacekeeping force positioned on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line (UNIFIL) suggest there was no evidence that Israeli forces had crossed into Lebanese territory.
The Blue Line or Line of Withdrawal was established in 2000 when Israeli forces withdrew from positions in southern Lebanon and is not considered the recognised boundary between Lebanon and Israel. The line itself was subsequently marked on the ground, along many sections by large, blue, diamond shaped signs. However, when Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in 2006, many of these signs were destroyed so there may be sections where the line is no longer visible. It is unknown if the line in this particular section where Israeli forces were undertaking tree and brush clearance is not marked on the ground which may have caused confusion. The UN Security Council has urged both sides to show maximum restraint, asking them to abide by the UN resolution ending the 2006 conflict and prevent any further escalation of hostilities. Israel has announced that it is continuing operations to remove trees along its side of the Blue Line.
Sources: 'Israel continues uprooting trees on Lebanon border after fatal clash' Harriet Sherwood, Guardian Unlimited, 5 August 2010; 'UN urges restraint after Israeli-Lebanon border clash' BBC News, 4 August 2010.