BEIRUT, Lebanon – Israeli fighter jets pounded suspected guerrilla hide-outs in southern Lebanon on Wednesday after Israeli army outposts were repeatedly attacked in a disputed border area, security officials and witnesses said.
The renewed fighting in the Chebaa Farms area came amid continued confrontations in Palestinian West Bank territory and threatened to reopen a front line on Israel's northern border.
Lebanese security officials, speaking in southern Lebanon on condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah guerrillas attacked three Israeli army outposts in the hills of Chebaa Farms with about a dozen rockets.
Israeli fighter jets then struck, firing about a dozen air-to-surface missiles in six runs on locations where guerrillas were believed to be taking cover or on the move near the towns of Chebaa and Kfar Chouba, witnesses said.
The Israeli army also responded with automatic rifle, tank and artillery fire.
Late Wednesday, the jets returned to fire four more missiles after guerrillas expanded the rocketing of Israeli positions, including the radar monitoring station on Mt. Hermon above the Chebaa Farms area. Israel also expanded its action, with a nighttime strike targeting an area three miles inside Lebanon.
Hezbollah said in a statement that its fighters were engaged in "fierce confrontations" with six Israeli positions in the Chebaa Farms area, "scoring definite hits among enemy ranks." In Jerusalem, the Israeli army reported that one Israeli was seriously wounded.
Earlier Wednesday, guerrillas exchanged mortar fire for a second day with the Israelis. Timur Goksel, spokesman for a U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, warned there was a danger "restrained" skirmishes could get out of control.
Increased exchanges in the past week have raised the possibility of wider Arab-Israeli clashes outside the Palestinian territories where intense Israeli military operations are under way following a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings.
A Hezbollah statement said a member "who was martyred performing his duty of jihad," or holy war, was being buried Wednesday. About 1,500 people attended his funeral in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, where some said he had died during Tuesday's fighting.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has warned Hezbollah and Syria, which Israel says controls the guerrillas, that they are "not immune" from Israeli retaliation.
Hezbollah, which fought Israeli troops in southern Lebanon for 18 years until their May 2000 withdrawal, issued its own warning Wednesday to Israel against targeting Lebanon.