Israel returns slain Lebanese

Israel has returned to Lebanon the remains of two Lebanese civilians shot dead by Israeli forces who spotted them carrying hunting rifles.

    UN peacekeepers maintain a presence in south Lebanon

    UN peacekeepers flew the bodies from northern Israel to the United Nations Interim Forces in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL) headquarters in the border town of Naqura, where a Red Cross ambulance picked them up on Wednesday.
       
    Lebanese security sources said the men were on a hunting trip near the border on Tuesday when they were shot while still inside Lebanese territory. Israel claims the two men were shot as they tried to cross the border. 
        
    Indian Major-General Lalit Mohan Tewari, UNIFIL's commander, expressed "deep anguish and sorrow at the killing of the two armed civilian Lebanese carrying hunting weapons".
       
    "This unfortunate incident underscores the tension along the
    Blue Line," he said in a statement, referring to the UN-drawn frontier. He urged all sides to exercise caution. 
       
    Earlier, Tewari had flown to Israel to hold talks with military chiefs.

    Condemnation

    Lebanese President Emile Lahud denounced the killings. 

    “This aggression is a dangerous escalation of the situation in southern Lebanon," he said, adding Israel would be held responsible for the consequences.  

    Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri also condemned the
    shooting and called on the international community to prevent
    recurrences. 

    Israeli soldiers regularly patrol
    the border with Lebanon

    A Lebanese security source said Mahmud al-Hadi, a 23-year-old student, and Khudr Arabi, a mechanic, also 23, both from the border village of Kfar Killa, were killed on the Lebanese side of the border, as they were driving in a BMW with hunting rifles.

    An Israeli source insisted that the pair had crossed over into the Israeli side of the border and were shot while approaching an Israeli security fence while carrying weapons and wearing dark clothing.

    For its part, Lebanon's Hizb Allah resistance group condemned the killings as a "serious matter and a big violation" that it said was totally unjustifiable. 

    It denied any connection with the two men.

    Tense border

    Hizb Allah spearheaded the resistance movement to oust Israeli forces in May 2001, after a 22-year occupation.  

    The incident took place in the divided village of Ghajar, at the foot of Mount Hermon that straddles the Israeli-Lebanese border. Most of its residents have obtained Israeli citizenship even though they consider themselves Syrian.
      
    The village is an extension of Syria's Golan Heights, which Israel occupied during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and then annexed in  1981.

    The Israeli army built a fence two years ago around the part of the village it occupies, dividing the village. 

    Sporadic cross-border clashes between Hizb Allah fighters and Israeli troops regularly spark fears of a "new front" opening in the conflict-torn region.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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