Israeli Shelling Kills U.N. Soldier

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Israeli military fire killed a French U.N. peacekeeper shortly after a Hezbollah (search) bomb attack claimed the life of an Israeli soldier in a day of violence near the border in southern Lebanon, Lebanese and U.N officials said.

A Swedish officer also was wounded by the Israeli shelling on Sunday, Milos Struger, spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon known as UNIFIL (search), said in a statement from the force's headquarters in the Lebanese border town of Naqoura.

Hezbollah said one of its guerrillas was killed in fighting with Israeli troops.

The Lebanon-Israel border has been largely quiet since Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after an 18-year occupation. However, Hezbollah guerrillas have occasionally attacked Israeli troops in the disputed Chebaa Farms (search) area where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.

Sunday's violence began when Hezbollah guerrillas detonated a roadside bomb that destroyed an Israeli military vehicle, killing an Israeli soldier and wounding three others, Lebanese security officials said. In Jerusalem, the Israeli military confirmed an officer was killed in the Hezbollhah attack.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said Israeli planes struck three unidentified Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon after the Hezbollah attack.

The warplanes fired missiles twice at Hezbollah's Tal el-Hamamseh observation post near the Israeli town of Metullah, seven miles west of the attack area, and shelled another position at Rweisat, Lebanese security officials said.

Israeli planes also fired two missiles on a suspected guerrilla hideout east of the Lebanese village of Kfar Chouba near the Chebaa Farms, the officials in south Lebanon said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The violence came on the same day Palestinians elected a successor — Mahmoud Abbas (search), according to exit polls — to the late Yasser Arafat (search). Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz said the attack "is intended to create a reality of terror on the day of the Palestinian elections."

Hezbollah denied that accusation.

"It is a natural operation as part of the resistance's struggle to liberate the Chebaa Farms," Sheik Hassan Ezzeddine, Hezbollah's senior political officer in south Lebanon, told AP late Sunday.

Struger said a French officer was "killed by shelling from the Israeli side of the Blue Line," the border line drawn by U.N. troops following Israel's withdrawal from a border zone in south Lebanon in 2000.

He said the French peacekeeper and wounded Swedish officer worked for the U.N. Observer Group Lebanon, a U.N. agency that monitors the 1948 Armistice Agreement between Lebanon and Israel.

A senior Israeli military investigator told The Associated Press in Jerusalem that the peacekeeper's death "apparently is the result of our tank fire." He also said the peacekeepers were not wearing a U.N. beret.

But Struger said the U.N. soldiers were "on duty, on patrol in a clearly marked vehicle." U.N. officers travel in white vehicles, with the U.N. initials in black text on the sides.

The Chebaa Farms is uninhabited farmland on the foothills of Mount Hermon that Lebanon, backed by Syria, claims as its own. Israel captured the territory when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The United Nations says the region is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.

Hezbollah, a Syrian- and Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militant group, led the guerrilla war against the Israeli occupation of a border zone in south Lebanon. Israel and the United States consider Hezbollah a terrorist group, but Lebanon regards it as legitimate resistance against Israeli occupation.