TYRE, Lebanon – Israeli forces struck targets in southern Lebanon with artillery and airstrikes on Saturday after an Israeli post in the Golan Heights was shelled, security officials said.
Al-Manar Television, run by the Lebanese Hezbollah guerrilla group, said rockets were fired on an Israeli post near the village of Ghajar in the Golan. It was not clear if Hezbollah was behind the attack but the group is known to be active in the area.
Later, Lebanese security officials said Israeli warplanes launched two air raids on the hills of Kfar Chouba, near the disputed Chebaa Farms area. The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Israeli army was firing artillery shells at areas close to Ghajar and Kfar Chouba.
Hezbollah guerrillas then attacked Israeli positions in Chebaa Farms following the Israeli military reprisals, Al-Manar reported.
Lebanon's Hezbollah guerrillas have launched several attacks on Israeli positions in Chebaa Farms this week, raising fears of a new front opening up in the worsening Middle East conflict. On Friday, guerrillas fired mortars and machine guns at Israeli troops on the Golan. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery guns.
Saturday's clashes came hours after U.N. peacekeepers found two ready-to-fire Katyusha rockets near the border with Israel, spokesman Timor Goksel for the U.N. force in south Lebanon said.
Fijian soldiers found the rockets in a bush near the normally quiet village of Beit Lif, some two miles north of the Israeli border. The troops gave the Katyushas to Lebanese authorities.
The Lebanese government opposes any attacks across its southern border except for the area of Chebaa Farms, which Lebanon claims as its territory. This week Lebanese authorities arrested nine Palestinian militants in possession of a rocket and rocket detonators in what appeared to be an attempt to stave off cross-border attacks that could provoke Israeli retaliation.
Lebanon's Defense Minister Khalil Hrawi said Friday that the government's stance is "to prevent the launching of military acts across the blue (border) line that was recognized by Lebanon but to preserve the right of resistance against the enemy's army to liberate occupied land."
Lebanon and Syria say Chebaa Farms is Lebanese land while the United Nations says it belongs to Israeli-occupied Syria. The area was seized by Israel during the 1967 Mideast War.
Earlier this week suspected Palestinian guerrillas fired a Katyusha rocket into northern Israel from Lebanon and gunmen opened fire on Israeli troops across the border.
Since Israel withdrew from south Lebanon in May 2000, attacks by Palestinian militants on the border have been rare. But tension has risen in south Lebanon, which is host to thousands of Palestinian refugees, since Israel began its offensive into the West Bank on March 29.