Israel fires into Lebanon after missile strikes vehicle
JERUSALEM (AP) An anti-tank missile hit an Israeli military vehicle near the Israeli-Lebanese border on Wednesday, the Israeli military said. Lebanese security officials said Israel later fired at least 35 artillery shells into Lebanon.
The exchange sent tensions soaring around the volatile boundary. The military did not immediately report any casualties, and said residents of the area have been ordered to remain in their homes.
Communities along the two countries' shared border have been on edge since last week, when an airstrike attributed to Israel on Syria's Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah soldiers and an Iranian general. It was not immediately clear whether Wednesday's incident was retaliation for that airstrike.
The Shiite militant Lebanese group a top suspect to have been behind the missile said it had no immediate comment.
Wednesday's attack took place near Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.
Two Lebanese officials said the shelling targeted the border villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba near the Shebaa Farms area.
On the Lebanese side, there were also no immediate reports of casualties. Families living on the border of the villages fled further within, fearing they'd be hit, said the officials, who are based in south Lebanon. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
One of the Lebanese officials said the incident is believed to be a "sophisticated Hezbollah operation" targeting Israeli vehicles along the border.
The attack comes after Israel launched airstrikes last Wednesday targeting Syrian army artillery posts in response to rockets fired the previous day into the Israeli-held Golan Heights.
Israel has declined to comment on any connection to the Jan. 18 airstrike, but has braced for a response to the strike, beefing up its air defenses and increasing surveillance along its northern frontier.
Israel says the Chebaa Farms is part of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967. Lebanon and Syria say the enclave belongs to Lebanon, while the United Nations says the area is part of Syria and that Damascus and Israel should negotiate its fate.
The latest salvos raised the possibility of renewed fighting along the Lebanese-Israel border, which has remained mostly quiet since a monthlong war in the summer of 2006. Since then, Israel has responded with airstrikes and artillery fire following a number of rocket attacks and shootings but the violence remained contained.
Karam reported from Beirut.