Israel attacks suspected Hezbollah targets
Israeli warplanes twice bombed suspected Hezbollah targets along the border in southern Lebanon on Monday, wounding two women, after guerrillas blew up an Israeli bulldozer in a disputed area near the frontier, Lebanese officials said.
Israeli artillery pounded positions in the disputed Chebaa Farms area, where the bulldozer attack took place, before fighter jets raided two other Lebanese border regions.
The flare-up near Israel's northern border comes as the Palestinian Authority tries to rein in Palestinian militants responsible for attacks in southern Israel.
The Lebanese security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said two Lebanese women were injured after Israeli planes fired two missiles at targets in Qsair, an area about four miles from the Israeli border.
Hours later, another jet fired a missile at Wadi Izziyeh, an area where Hezbollah maintains positions between the southern port city of Tyre and the border town of Naqoura on the Mediterranean coast. There was no word on casualties, but a plume of smoke was seen billowing from the bombed area.
Earlier, Hezbollah's Al-Manar television said Hezbollah forces planted a bomb that destroyed a bulldozer in the Chebaa Farms area. It said there were "definite casualties" among the Israelis, adding that Israeli ambulances rushed to the scene.
But the Israeli army said there were no casualties in the bulldozer attack, which it said took place inside Israeli territory.
The Israelis issued a statement saying its air force "targeted two sites in southern Lebanon belonging to Hezbollah" after the militant group claimed responsibility for the bulldozer attack.
"The Israeli Defense Forces will continue to act with determination against any attempt to target Israelis and destabilize the region," the statement added.
Lebanese security officials said at least 25 Israeli artillery shells landed near the village of Kfar Chouba near the Chebaa Farms, following the bulldozer attack. Israeli officials said the Hezbollah strike was the group's third in the area in eight days.
The attacks include a Jan. 9 Hezbollah roadside bombing that killed an Israeli soldier. Israeli artillery retaliation killed a French officer serving with the United Nations and wounded a Swedish officer and a Lebanese man. A Hezbollah militant also was killed.
Hezbollah issued a statement later Monday saying the bulldozer bombing was in retaliation for "repeated Israeli aggression," claiming Israeli artillery gunners have shelled the area numerous times recently.
Israeli officials have accused Hezbollah of coordinating with Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Hezbollah is backed by Syria and Iran and the group is on the U.S. list of terrorist groups.
The Lebanon-Israel border has been largely quiet since Israel withdrew its forces from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after an 18-year occupation.
But Hezbollah, who took control of the Lebanese border areas, has occasionally attacked Israeli troops in the disputed Chebaa Farms area where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.
Lebanon, backed by Syria, claims the area. Israel captured the territory when its forces seized Syria's Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war before annexing the area. The United Nations says the region is Syrian and that Syria and Israel should negotiate its fate.