JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a public warning to Lebanon on Wednesday, saying it would face a ‘vigorous’ Israeli response in the event of more unrest on their shared border.

BLOODY ATTACK: Colleagues and relatives of Lebanese Sergeant Abdullah Tufayli, who was killed during clashes between Israeli forces and the Lebanese army, mourn at his coffin during his funeral at Deir al- Zahrani village, southern Lebanon. — Reuters photo

But at the same time as Netanyahu’s office published his comments, which put the Lebanese government in the same category as the militant Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, Israeli, UN and Lebanese military officers were working behind the scenes to douse the flames.

“I want to make it clear to Hamas, and also to the government of Lebanon which we see as responsible for the violent provocation against our soldiers; do not test our resolve to defend Israel’s civilians and soldiers,” Netanyahu said.

Israel’s key ally, the United States, backed Israel’s contention that its troops were carrying out routine work on their own side of the frontier on Tuesday when they were subjected to an unprovoked attack by Lebanese soldiers.

“The firing of the Lebanese armed forces was wholly unjustified and unwarranted,” State Department Spokesman Philip Crowley said.

Netanyahu’s comments were made in a Hebrew-language statement distributed to media in writing and on video.

Tuesday’s firefight, the deadliest confrontation on Israel’s northern border in four years, took the lives of an Israeli colonel, two Lebanese soldiers and a Lebanese journalist.

It was the latest in a string of violent cross-border incidents during the past few days.

On Friday a rocket fired from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip slammed into the southern Israeli city of Ashkelon, and on Monday rockets fired from Egyptian territory hit the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat and the adjacent Jordanian town of Aqaba.

Egypt blamed the Red Sea attacks on Gaza-based militants, who apparently sneaked into the Egyptian Sinai peninsula, although Hamas denied responsibility.

“Our policy is clear,” Netanyahu said in the Hebrew statement.

“Israel responds, and will continue to respond, forcefully to every attack on its civilians and soldiers.”

Late on Wednesday, senior Israeli and Lebanese officers met at a base of the United Nations peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon on the border between the two countries, “to address the serious situation that developed in the last two days with the aim to prevent any recurrence of such a situation”.

A Unifil statement later said Unifil Force Commander Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas chaired the “extraordinary tripartite meeting with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) at the UN Position at the Ras Al Naqoura crossing in south Lebanon”.

The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Michael Williams also attended and addressed the meeting.

Unifil called on the parties “to exercise maximum restraint, avoid any action that could serve to heighten tensions, and work with Unifil in taking steps to prevent any recurrence of such a situation”.

Asarta called the meeting constructive and said he stressed the importance of ensuring full respect for the Blue Line by all the parties.

“I reiterated the sensitivity of the Blue Line and urged utmost caution in any actions along the Blue Line that could be perceived as provocative and exacerbate tensions.

“I called on the parties to utilise the liaison and coordination mechanism through Unifil particularly on matters relating to the Blue Line in order to minimise the scope for any misunderstandings or apprehensions that may lead to wanton escalation.” — AFP