Israeli troops shot two Lebanese soldiers early on Monday, hours after a Lebanese army sniper killed an Israeli soldier as he drove along the volatile border late at night, the Israeli military said.
The shootings raised the possibility of renewed fighting in the area, which has remained mostly quiet since a month-long war in the summer of 2006, though an Israeli defense official said Israel had no interest in further escalation.
Relations between Lebanon and Israel are so fraught with tensions that any incident risks sparking a major conflagration. The two have been officially at war since Israel's creation in 1948. Each country bans its citizens from visiting the other, and there are no direct trade ties between the two.
In the incident late Sunday, Israeli soldier Shlomi Cohen, 31, was fatally shot by a Lebanese army sniper near the tourist site of Rosh Hanikra on the Mediterranean Sea, the Israeli military said.
Lebanon's National News Agency confirmed the shooting by a member of the Lebanese army but it was not clear why the sniper had opened fire. In the past, the Lebanese military has opened fire after saying Israeli soldiers had tried to infiltrate into the country.
Defense officials were later questioning the sniper about the incident, said a Lebanese security official, speaking condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Hezbollah, the guerrilla group that waged the war seven years ago, did not appear to be involved in the incident.
Later, Israeli army spokeswoman Lt. Libby Weiss said Israeli forces identified "suspicious movement" along the border just after midnight, and shot two members of Lebanon's armed forces. The shooting occurred near where Cohen was killed, she said but had no details on the condition of the Lebanese.
Lebanon's NNA said Israeli troops opened fire on a forested area on the Lebanese side of the border around 1 a.m. local time. The news agency did not report any Lebanese casualties. The Lebanese security official said he had no knowledge or information on reports of two Lebanese soldiers shot by Israeli troops.
Israel protested the "outrageous breach of Israel's sovereignty" with U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon and heightened its state of preparedness, said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli army spokesman.
"We will not tolerate aggression against the state of Israel, and maintain the right to exercise self-defense against perpetrators of attacks," he said. But he added: "We have no interest in further escalation of violence."
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel would be meeting with the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, or UNIFIL, to request an explanation from the Lebanese army about whether the soldier acted on his own and what it would do to prevent such incidents in the future.
Israel and Lebanon remain enemy countries with no diplomatic relations. Their armies do not communicate directly but in cases of increased tension exchange messages through a U.N. intermediary. Generally, Israeli army officials and Lebanese army officials sit in adjacent rooms, with U.N. representatives shuttling messages from room to room.
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the peacekeeping forces was investigating the incidents and was in touch with both sides. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that both sides were "cooperating with the United Nations ... to ascertain the facts" and urged restraint.
Since the 2006 war, the border has experienced only sporadic violence. Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery fire following a number of rocket attacks and shootings. In the most serious incident, a high-ranking Israeli officer was killed by a Lebanese sniper in 2010 after Israeli forces tried to cut down a tree along the border. Israel responded with artillery fire, killing two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist.
The 2006 war broke out after Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas crossed into Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers. The ensuing month-long conflict killed about 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis.
Hezbollah, which has an arsenal of tens of thousands of missiles and rockets aimed at Israel, is at the moment preoccupied with the war in neighboring Syria, where it is aiding the forces of President Bashar Assad. Israeli officials believe Hezbollah is not interested in opening a new front with Israel at the current time.
Israel and Lebanon have fought several wars before. In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with the stated intention of driving Palestinian guerrillas out of the south. The Israeli military battled halfway through the country into Beirut and occupied south Lebanon until 2000.
The Lebanese are banned from calling or traveling to Israel or having contacts with Israelis. Such an offense is punishable by anything from few weeks to life in prison with hard labor, depending on the kind