HALTA, Lebanon – Lebanese guerrillas said Friday they fired rockets and machine guns at Israeli positions in a disputed border area in a fresh bout of fighting. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery.
The fighting followed arrests of nine Palestinian militants in what appeared to be an attempt by the government to stave off clashes along another Mideast front at a time of Israeli incursions into the West Bank.
A statement from the Hezbollah militant group said the guerrillas fired at six Israeli outposts in the Chebaa Farms Friday evening.
Israeli fighter jets fired four air-to-surface rockets at guerrilla hideouts, and villagers in the area said at least one Lebanese civilian was wounded.
Villagers also said flames could be seen billowing from the Israeli radar monitoring station on Mt. Hermon above the Chebaa Farms. The claim could not be immediately confirmed.
Lebanon said it arrested some Palestinian militants caught in the country this week — but the detentions did not target the Hezbollah guerrillas, whose attacks this week on Israeli army outposts have provoked several Israeli airstrikes.
The Lebanese government has supported Hezbollah's campaign for Chebaa Farms, saying that area is Lebanese. The United Nations says the territory belongs to Syria, the main power broker in Lebanon, and its future should be negotiated between Syria and Israel.
Lebanese government and security officials said Lebanese troops on Friday seized a ready-to-fire Katyusha rocket and arrested six armed Palestinians who were hiding in a cave about nine miles northeast of the border.
Prosecutor-General Adnan Addoum said the six Palestinians will be charged with acquiring and transporting illegal weapons and undermining national security.
On Thursday, three Palestinian guerrillas were caught in a car on the coastal road between the cities of Sidon and Tyre, about 34 miles west of the Chebaa Farms, with Grad rocket detonators in their possession, the officials said. The Russian-made 120mm Grad missiles have a range of more than 12 miles.
Security officials said the Palestinians planned to fire four rockets into northern Israel. They were also suspected of firing a rocket on the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona earlier in the week, the officials said.
Witnesses reported seeing at least 200 Lebanese soldiers on patrols Thursday night, setting up checkpoints to search cars entering villages close to the Chebaa Farms.
Cross-border raids and shelling by Palestinian guerrillas provoked Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1978 and again in 1982.