UNIFIL Commander: IDF Soldier's Killing an 'Isolated Incident'
The UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon said Monday that a border shooting that killed an IDF soldier appeared to be "an individual action", as officers of the two armies met.
The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) statement came after a meeting it convened at its post near the Ras al-Naqoura border crossing, bringing together senior Lebanese and Israeli army officers.
"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," said the UNIFIL commander, Major General Paolo Serra.
He said he was "encouraged by the full cooperation... received from them (the two sides) in restoring calm in the area."
"I stressed at the meeting that this must remain an isolated incident," he added.
In a statement UNIFIL said that the participants at the meeting "discussed concrete steps to strengthen the existing security arrangements along the Blue Line (border) to prevent the recurrence of such incidents."
The shooting, which took place on Sunday evening, 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 UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
The Israeli army said Master Sergeant Shlomi Cohen was shot by Lebanese troops as he was driving a civilian vehicle along a section of the border near Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean coast. The crossing is known in Lebanon as Ras al-Naqoura.
In a statement, the UN chief said UNIFIL was investigating the incident in cooperation with the two armies, and urged the sides to remain calm.
"The Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces are cooperating with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to ascertain the facts," he said.
"The Secretary General reminds the Lebanese Armed Forces of their responsibilities under Security Council Resolution 1701 and strongly urges both sides to exercise restraint," he said of the resolution which ended hostilities in 2006 and which the deadly incident was in violation of.
Israel filed a protest with UNIFIL over the incident which it described as an "outrageous breach" of its sovereignty, and the IDF said it had "heightened its state of preparedness" and would maintain its "right to exercise self-defense".
The Israeli army said troops searching the area on Sunday, shortly after the shooting, had fired towards two suspects who were standing on the other side of the border, hitting one of them.
"After the incident, we reached the area to conduct searches as part of the investigation, and saw two suspects on the other side of the border," army spokesman Major Arye Shalicar told AFP.
"We shot at them, and saw we hit at least one. We think they were Lebanese soldiers... involved in the shooting of the soldier," he said, contradicting claims that the attack was the work of a lone, rogue soldier.
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon confirmed that the shooter was understood to be "a Lebanese soldier".
"We hold the Lebanese government and Lebanese army responsible for what happens on their side," he warned.
He said Israel would demand explanations from the Lebanese army at the meeting with UNIFIL.
31-year-old Master Sergeant Cohen, died after his car was hit by "six to seven rounds," Shalicar said.
Lebanese media reported that the unnamed attacker turned himself in Monday morning, after spending the night hiding in nearby woodlands.
Cohen was a resident of the northern Israeli city of Afula. He was to be laid to rest at a cemetery in the northern Israeli port city of Haifa on Monday evening.
There was no immediate reaction from the Lebanese army but it issued a statement on Monday saying an Israeli drone had violated Lebanese airspace in the same area shortly after the incident. Meanwhile, Lebanese troops were stationed at their position close to where the shooting occurred, a military source said.
"An inquiry has been opened to understand what happened in the incident on Sunday," he said.
The last time a soldier was killed there was in August 2010, after Lebanese soldiers opened fire in what was also an unprovoked attack. IDF forces returned fire, killing two Lebanese soldiers and a pro-Hezbollah journalist who had recently been stationed there and was recording the incident.
Last week, Hezbollah blamed the assassination of a senior commander on Israel, despite two Sunni Islamist groups claiming responsibility.
UNIFIL troops were deployed along the border following the 34-day Second Lebanon War in 2006, which was triggered by a Hezbollah attack on an IDF patrol which killed three soldiers, and the kidnapping of IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who dead bodies were later used as bargaining chips for a prisoner release deal with Israel.