Hezbollah destroys Israel bulldozer at border
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Hezbollah militants attacked an Israeli bulldozer at the Israeli-Lebanese border on Monday. Israel's military said one soldier was killed and two were wounded, one seriously.
In a broadcast by its Al Manar Television, the Islamic militant group said the bulldozer had crossed the border into Lebanon, but the Israeli army disputed that. Israel also blamed the attack on Syria, which is widely believed to support Hezbollah.
"Holy warriors of the Islamic Resistance destroyed a hostile vehicle that violated the border line in the town of Marouahine in southern Lebanon," Al Manar said.
"The bulldozer was directly hit," a separate Hezbollah statement said.
The Israeli army commander on the Lebanon border, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, told the Associated Press the bulldozer was clearing land on the Israeli side when it was attacked.
"It was hit by an anti-tank missile fired from the Lebanese side. We don't know what type," Gantz said.
The general said the situation on the border could escalate, saying the Lebanese army does not monitor the area as required by a U.N. Security Council resolution.
"Hezbollah keeps operating. ... The Syrians are encouraging them. One day this is going to blow up," Gantz said.
Hezbollah is believed to receive support from Iran and Syria, which dominates Lebanon and stations about 20,000 troops in the country.
A senior aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Raanan Gissin, said Syria was responsible for the attack.
"We have no intention of escalating the situation," Gissin told the AP, but Syria must "stop supporting terrorist organizations and dismantle the terrorist infrastructure that it built in Lebanon."
The previous Israeli fatality on the border was Oct. 6, 2003, when a Hezbollah sniper killed an Israeli soldier on patrol near the Israeli town of Metulla.
Since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000, there have numerous cases of Israeli aircraft flying over Lebanon and Israeli soldiers exchanging fire across the border with Hezbollah.
In October 2000, Hezbollah guerrillas disguised as U.N. peacekeepers kidnapped three Israeli soldiers on the border near the disputed Chebaa Farms area.
Earlier in the day, Israeli warplanes flew over eastern and southern Lebanon, drawing anti-aircraft fire from the Lebanese army and Hezbollah guerrillas, Lebanese security officials said.
Two Israeli jets flew over the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre and the market town of Nabatiyeh as well as the Hermel region in eastern Lebanon, breaking the sound barrier, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
In Israel, military officials declined to comment on whether Israeli jets had flown over Lebanon but said echoes of explosions were heard on the Israeli side.
Hezbollah, which led an 18-year guerrilla war against Israeli forces until their withdrawal from southern Lebanon, routinely fires on Israeli warplanes over Lebanon.
The office of the U.N. secretary-general's representative for Lebanon, Staffan de Mistura, issued a statement expressing dismay over the flights and calling on the Israeli government to stop them.