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Three killed in Israel-Hezbollah exchange of fire
Wednesday January 28, 2015 11:54 PM, IANS

Two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish soldier of the UN peacekeeping forces were killed when Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group Wednesday attacked an Israeli army convoy and Israel retaliated.

The Israeli army confirmed Wednesday afternoon the death of two of its soldiers near the Israel-Lebanon border in a Hezbollah missile attack, Xinhua news agency reported.

"Earlier today, an anti-tank missile hit an Israel Defence Force vehicle in the Mount Dov area, killing two soldiers and wounding additional seven, two of them moderately," a military spokesperson said in a statement.

"The soldiers' families have been notified," the statement added.

A short while later, Hezbollah fired mortar shells at a military post in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights and the Arab Druze village of Ragar. No injuries were reported, but a mortar shell set fire to house in the village.

The incident took place near the Shebaa Farms, a disputed zone at the intersection of borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

The attack prompted Israel to launch a combined aerial and ground strikes at Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, a military spokesperson said.

At least 50 artillery shells were fired into southern Lebanon during the assault, Israeli media said. The strikes killed a Spanish Blue Helmet.

"I can confirm that a Spanish soldier was killed in southern Lebanon," Andrea Tenenti, spokesman for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (Unifil), was quoted by Lebanon's National News Agency as saying.

The spokesman added that the peacekeepers' commander, Major General Luciano Portolano, was "in close contact with all the parties, urging maximum restraint to prevent an escalation".

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed on his Twitter account his "great sadness at the death of a Spanish soldier in Lebanon".

Unifil has been deployed in southern Lebanon since 1978.

Earlier, following the missile attack on Mount Dov, a report from Beirut said Hezbollah has claimed responsibility.

In a statement, Hezbollah said "at 11.35 this morning, the Qoneitra martyrs squad of the Islamic Resistance targeted an Israeli army convoy composed of a number of vehicles and a number of Zionist officers and soldiers, with the appropriate missiles, which led to the destruction of many vehicles and the injury of many enemy soldiers".

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu warned Hezbollah that a larger Israeli attack might follow.

"To everyone who is trying to challenge us at the northern border, I recommend for them look what happened in Gaza," Netanyahu said shortly before entering an emergency meeting he summoned with the military's senior command to discuss further steps.

"Hamas took its hardest hit since its formation and the IDF is prepared to act strongly on all fronts," he added.

Over the past week, Israel has been on high alert in the northern borders, fearing possible retaliation by Hezbollah over an airstrike last Sunday, which killed Hezbollah operatives, including a top commander and an Iranian General.

Hezbollah, which largely controls southern Lebanon, and Israel fought a one-month war in 2006, and the two remain sworn enemies.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Hamas movement and the Islamic Jihad (Holy War) Wednesday hailed the attack by the Hezbollah on the Israeli army patrol.

Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas movement's spokesman in Gaza, said in an emailed press statement that Hezbollah has the right to respond to the Israeli occupation's assaults and attacks, mainly the last one.

The Gaza-based Islamic Jihad's armed wing, al-Quds Brigades, also said in an emailed leaflet that it hailed the armed attack on an Israeli army patrol near Shebaa Farms in south Lebanon.

The Palestinian Left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) also said in an emailed press statement that it welcomed "the heroic armed attack of Hezbollah fighters against the Israeli army".

In Damascus, a Syrian lawmaker defended Hezbollah's targeting of the Israeli military convoy, saying the response was a normal retaliation to the latest Israeli attack that killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria.

"The response by Hezbollah against the Israeli aggression is normal because it's the right of Hezbollah to respond against any aggression or escalation from the Israeli side," Sharif Shehadeh, a prominent legislator, told Xinhua.

The attack was clearly Hezbollah's retaliation to the Israeli attack that targeted a group of Hezbollah fighters in Syria's southern province of Qunaitera, killing six of them.

The parliamentarian said that Israel, even though trying to drag the region into further chaos, did not have an interest in engaging in full-blown war.




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