BEIRUT, Lebanon – U.N. agency said Saturday that Israel laid mines in Lebanon during this summer's war between the Jewish state and the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group — the first time Israel has been accused of planting mines during the latest fighting.
The report by the U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center follows its investigation of a land mine explosion Friday that wounded two European disposal experts and a Lebanese medic.
The explosion was caused by an Israeli anti-personnel land mine placed in a mine field newly laid during the fighting in July and August, the center in south Lebanon said in a statement.
"This is the first evidence we have that the Israeli forces laid new mines in south Lebanon in 2006," the statement said.
Israeli military officials said they weren't convinced the mine was Israeli.
"It could be a Hezbollah or Syrian land mine and the land mine might not even be from the latest conflict," the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the inquiry into the incident was still at an initial stage.
The officials, however, were evasive when asked whether Israel had laid new mines in Lebanon this summer.
Dalya Farran, a spokeswoman for the U.N. agency, said its experts found the land mines and were able to tell they were new Israeli anti-personnel mines based on their "type, shape and condition."
"The entire area where the mine fields were found had been cleared by agency experts between 2002 and 2004, so clearly these are new ones," Farran said.
Lebanon's south is riddled with land mines, laid by retreating Israeli soldiers who pulled out of the region in 2000, after an 18-year occupation. Hezbollah has also planted mines to ward off Israeli forces.
U.N. experts say up to one million cluster bombs dropped by Israeli aircraft during the July-August war against Hezbollah remain unexploded in south Lebanon, where they continue to threaten civilians. At least 24 people have died in cluster bomb explosions since the war ended Aug. 14.
Friday's blast seriously wounded ordnance disposal experts David Alderson of Britain and Damir Paradzik of Bosnia — both of whom lost a foot — and a Lebanese medic, as they tried to rescue a shepherd from an unmarked minefield in the village of Deir Mimas, two miles northwest of the Israeli border.
Farran said the shepherd had led a herd of goats into an unmarked minefield when one of the animals detonated a land mine. Alderson, Paradzik and the medic heard the explosion, and on trying to help the shepherd, inadvertently detonated a second land mine.
The shepherd was unscathed.
The three wounded men worked for ArmorGroup, a London-based company that has been clearing unexploded ordnance and cluster bombs in south Lebanon since September for the center.
Lebanon has long called for Israel to hand over maps of the minefields.