Middle East

Hezbollah 'sends anti-escalation message' to Israel

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Media captionThe BBC's Orla Guerin identifies the location of Wednesday's attack at the Shebaa Farms area

Israel says it has received a message from Lebanese militant group Hezbollah saying it does not want a further escalation after border clashes on Wednesday that killed three people.

Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said the message was passed by the UN mission, but Israeli troops remained "prepared".

The two Israeli soldiers killed in the exchange were buried on Thursday. A Spanish UN peacekeeper was also killed.

Hezbollah and Israel fought a deadly war in 2006, which ended in stalemate.

That conflict lasted a month and caused death, destruction and disruption on both sides of the border.

The feeling now is that neither Hezbollah nor Israel has much interest in an escalation to that point, says the BBC's Jim Muir in Beirut.

Hezbollah is already heavily embroiled in the war in Syria, while Israel's leaders face general elections in March.

They could benefit if a robust response was seen to punish Hezbollah without repercussions, but a disruptive war could backfire at the polls, our correspondent adds.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Israeli troops remain "prepared and ready" until calm returns to the area, Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon says
Image copyright AFP
Image caption The violence began with militants firing missiles at an Israeli convoy
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The UN expressed "deep concern over the serious deterioration of the security situation
Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hezbollah supporters came out on to the streets in southern Lebanon to celebrate the attack

Call for calm

Confirming that the Hezbollah message had been passed on by the UN force, Unifil, Mr Yaalon added:

"I can't say whether the events are behind us.

"Until the area completely calms down, the Israel Defense Forces will remain prepared and ready."

Wednesday's cross-border violence erupted when Israeli military vehicles were struck by anti-tank missiles near Mt Dov, in the Shebaa Farms area, a tract of land between the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

Hezbollah said it was retaliation for an Israeli air strike that killed six of its fighters and an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general in the Syrian Golan Heights 10 days ago.

The UN Security Council is to discuss the fighting at an emergency meeting called by France in New York.

A senior UN official on the ground in Lebanon urged "maximum restraint to prevent an escalation".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an emergency security meeting and said the attackers would "pay the full price".

Mid-East media wary of escalation

What are the Shebaa Farms?

Image copyright AFP
  • The farms cover an area about 14km (9 miles) long and 2.5km wide, to the south of the Lebanese village of Shebaa, on the western slopes of Mount Hermon/Jabal al-Sheikh
  • The area has been a flashpoint for violence since Israeli forces withdrew from Lebanon in 2000
  • Until the 1967 Middle East war, the farms were under Syrian control, but the farmers had Lebanese citizenship
  • The area was captured by Israel and annexed in 1981 along with the rest of the Golan Heights, a move not internationally recognised
  • The Lebanese government says the farms are part of its territory, a claim backed by Damascus, but not the UN
  • Hezbollah has consistently used Israel's presence in the area as justification for retaining its weapons and continuing "resistance"

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