Israeli, Lebanese troops clash at border

By , csmonitor.com

Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire across the border late Wednesday night when Lebanese troops shot at two Israeli bulldozers clearing mines at the "Blue Line" that separates the two countries.

Haaretz reports that Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora said the bulldozers crossed the Blue Line into Lebanese territory, which he called a violation that "compounded the daily violations of Lebanese sovereignty by Israeli aircraft."

Siniora discussed the border clash with UN envoy Geir Pedersen, telling him that his government condemned what he described as the new Israeli aggression on Lebanon's sovereignty and what he called the violation of the Blue Line, the UN-recognized border between the two countries.

Liam McDowell, a spokesman for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, said the exchange was initiated by the Lebanese army and that the Israeli bulldozer had crossed the border fence, but not the Blue Line, to clear mines.

Al Jazeera reporters write that the two bulldozers had not actually crossed the Blue Line, but only crossed a fence on the Israeli side of the border. An Israeli tank fired on the Lebanese Army position after the shooting started, but no one was hurt. UNIFIL said the bulldozers were apparently trying to clear mines that had been placed on the Israeli side of the border for defensive reasons.

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The security situation has been escalating in the area over the last couple of days following the testimony of Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, before the commission investigating last year's war.

Olmert said one of the successes of the Israeli offensive was to drive Hezbollah forces away from the border. Zeina Khodr, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Lebanon, says that, subsequently, Hezbollah flags and signs can be seen frequently in the area as a demonstration that they still have a strong presence and support in the border area.

However, The Daily Star of Lebanon contradicts the Al Jazeera report, writing that the bombs exploded by the Israeli bulldozers had been on the Lebanese side of the Blue Line.

Contrary to earlier reports, UNIFIL's assessment team, and the Lebanese Army, said the devices were just north of the Blue Line so Israeli fire had to cross the Blue Line in order to detonate the devices, which constitutes an Israeli violation of the cease-fire that ended the war.

The Associated Press reports that UNIFIL troops had talked to senior officers on both sides and the incident has since "calmed down."

AP also reports that Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz Wednesday accused Syria of allowing Hizbullah to rearm itself in the southern region of Lebanon, and that Israel retained the right to "act forcefully" to counter the threat. The Jerusalem Post reports that Syrian leader Bashir Assad, at a two-day convention of the Baath Party in Damascus, reiterated his regime's support of both Hizbullah and Hamas, but he did not specifically mention Mr. Peretz's accusations.

Finally, Haaretz reports that during a visit to London, Mr. Olmert asked British Foreign Secretary Magaret Beckett to enact a law preventing the arrest of Israeli military officers in British territory.

According to a political source in Jerusalem, British authorities promised Israel roughly a year and a half ago that the country would enact a law similar to a Belgian law, passed in the wake of the Belgian warrant issued for the arrest of then-prime minister Ariel Sharon.

The Belgian law transferred the authority to issue arrest warrants for foreign citizens on accusations of war crimes from the courts to the government.

Haaretz reports that Ms. Beckett told Olmert that she would "take care of the issue."

Also, Indiana University Professor Alvin Rosenfeld recently wrote an essay posted by the American Jewish Committee, "'Progressive' Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism," that accused liberal Jews, through their speaking and writing, of "feeding a rise in virulent anti-Semitism by questioning whether Israel should even exist." The article has touched off a furious debate in Israel and the US over how critical anyone, be they Jewish or not, can be of Israel government policy, and if such criticism is anti-semitic. Following are articles from both sides of the debate.

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