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Wednesday, 3 January, 2001, 07:18 GMT
Israelis shelled from Lebanon
Israeli soldiers on the border
The border remains heavily guarded
An Israeli military post in disputed border territory has come under fire from southern Lebanon, prompting an immediate retaliation.

In what was said to be the first such incident for several weeks, a number of mortar bombs were launched by unknown forces inside Lebanon at the Shebaa Farms area.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack. Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas are fighting to oust Israeli troops from the area.


Israeli soldiers, backed by helicopters, returned fire. Lebanese police said the Israelis fired more than 50 tank and artillery shells in an hour-long bombardment.

Correspondents said it was the heaviest shelling since Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas captured three Israeli soldiers in a raid on the Shebaa Farms in October.

There were no reported casualties on either side.

Lebanese security forces said they were hunting those who carried out the mortar attack, said to have been travelling in a blue 1975 Mercedes.

'Not Hezbollah'

A Lebanese official said it was not the work of Hezbollah, saying it was "contrary to Lebanese policy".

Israeli forces withdrew from south Lebanon last May after more than 20 years of occupation.

While most of the border line was agreed by the two countries, differences remain over ownership of the Shebaa Farms, which Israel captured from Syria in 1967.

Beirut says it is Lebanese territory. However, the United Nations says it should be a matter of future discussion between Syria and Israel over the Golan.

The mortar attack followed an incident on Tuesday further west along the frontier, in which an Israeli construction worker was wounded by a gunshot fired from Lebanon.

The Lebanese government has ignored UN requests to send its army to establish security in the area, saying it will not serve as Israel's border guard.

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See also:

25 May 00 | Middle East
In focus: Shebaa farms
26 May 00 | Middle East
Analysis: Lebanon's fragile peace
22 Oct 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah: Keep up the fight
05 May 00 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Meeting Hezbollah fighters
12 Dec 00 | Middle East
Hezbollah Israeli swap 'imminent'
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