Samer Wehbi  /  AP
Lebanese shepherd Kamel Nasser holds part of an Israeli shell that hit his farm and killed some of his sheep near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Chouba on Friday.
updated 5/7/2004 2:57:32 PM ET 2004-05-07T18:57:32

Israeli warplanes struck suspected guerrilla positions in southern Lebanon on Friday after artillery fire killed one Israeli soldier near the border, Lebanese and Israeli security officials said.

Two Israeli legislators urged the government to respond by attacking the Lebanese government and Syria.

Less than two hours after the dawn artillery fire, two Israeli jets fired six missiles at guerrilla-controlled hills just inside the Lebanese border, the officials said.

An Israeli military statement said one soldier was killed in the Hezbollah shelling and eight were wounded, two of them seriously.

Hezbollah said the fighting began when Israeli troops tried to infiltrate guerrilla-controlled territory and were ambushed. It said Israelis were killed and wounded but did not mention guerrilla casualties.

The northern Israel military commander, Maj. Gen. Benny Gantz, denied Israeli troops crossed into Lebanon. He said a patrol entered a border outpost in Chebaa Farms and came under mortar and artillery fire.

“As a result the soldiers were hit. We returned fire at the sources of the shooting — with artillery and from the air,” Gantz said.

Lebanese officials said the battle lasted about three hours.

‘A dangerous course’
Lebanese Foreign Minister Jean Obeid called on the United Nations to restrain Israel, saying the airstrike was part of “Israel’s continual program of attacking Lebanese territory.”

“The situation is taking a dangerous course,” he said.

Yuval Steinitz, a lawmaker who heads the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said Lebanon bears responsibility.

“I would aim the sights at the Lebanese government,” Steinitz said.

Efraim Sneh of the opposition Labor Party warned of the danger that Hezbollah rockets pose to Israeli population centers and said Syria must be held accountable.

“Syria, and not Lebanon, is the one who gives Hezbollah permission to carry out these actions,” he told the radio.

Syria “needs to be reminded of the results of these actions-similar to how we’ve reminded them in the past,” Sneh added.

Last October, Israeli jets struck a suspected base of Islamic Jihad in Syria after the group carried out a suicide bombing in Israel.

Lebanon complains to United Nations
Friday’s airstrike came a day after Lebanon complained to the United Nations about Israeli overflights and airstrikes. On Wednesday, guerrillas fired anti-aircraft guns at Israeli jets. Israel said some of the shells landed on its territory, and launched an airstrike on southern Lebanon — the first in two months.

South Lebanon has been largely quiet since Israel withdrew its army from the area in 2000 after an 18-year occupation of a border strip. However, Israeli forces have repeatedly clashed in Chebaa Farms with Hezbollah, the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militant group that led the guerrilla war against the occupation.

Chebaa Farms is uninhabited farmland on the foothills of Mount Hermon near the country’s southeastern border. Israel captured the territory when its forces seized Syria’s Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. Lebanon, backed by Syria, claims the territory as its own. The United Nations says the region is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.

Israel and the United States regard Hezbollah as a terrorist group, but Lebanon regards it as movement of legitimate resistance against Israeli occupation.

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