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Friday, 31 January, 2003, 14:23 GMT
Israeli jets buzz Lebanon
Lebanese army anti-aircraft gunners in Sidon
The planes attracted anti-aircraft fire
Fighter jets from Israel's air force have been flying deep into Lebanese airspace for the second day running.

Air patrols over the border region have been common since Israel's withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000 but these planes flew as far as the Bekaa valley, where Syrian troops and Hezbollah guerrillas are based in strength.

On Thursday night, planes sparked panic in Sidon when they carried out mock "dive-bombing" over the southern port city and flew over nearby refugee camps at low altitude, Lebanese police said.

The Lebanese Government has accused Israel of seeking to increase tension in the region with the flights.

"Through this tension [Israel] is trying to play a role in the Iraqi crisis," Lebanese Defence Minister Khalil Hrawi said on state radio.

"It seeks to be present on the Middle East arena through its military power."

UN concern

There have been no reports of anti-aircraft fire in response to Friday's airspace violations, in which planes flew over the eastern city of Baalbek, 100 kilometres (60 miles) north-east of Beirut.

On Thursday, Lebanese anti-aircraft gunners in Sidon opened fire at the Israeli planes and were joined by Palestinian fighters with automatic weapons in the Ein el-Hilweh refugee camp on the city's outskirts.

The planes spent about an hour in the area, also buzzing the Miyeh Miyeh refugee camp. Flights were also recorded over Tyre and Nabatiyeh.

A spokesman for the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon, Timour Goksel, said the Israeli overflights created "unnecessary escalation and tension in the area".

The UN has regularly criticised Israel for violating Lebanese airspace.

See also:

22 Jan 03 | Middle East
23 Oct 02 | Middle East
16 Oct 02 | Middle East
08 Oct 02 | Middle East
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