Israelis exchange fire with Hezbollah in disputed area

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The Independent Online

The bombing was retaliation for a barrage of rocket attacks on an Israeli military position launched by the Lebanese militia group.

The rocket attack came two days after a 17-year-old shepherd from Shebaa, Ibrahim Rehayel, was shot dead by Israeli troops as he herded goats at Bastara Farms, bordering the disputed Shebaa area, which has been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967. Israel never tires of pointing out the financial and ideological links between Iran and the Hizbollah movement of Lebanon.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said that one Israeli soldier had been lightly wounded in the Hizbollah attack. There were no details of Lebanese casualties. The exchange of fire began at about 3.30pm and was continuing as darkness fell.

On the balcony of a house in mourning yesterday, the young shepherd's mother raised her arms to the sky as the explosions from the first volley of Hizbollah rockets echoed around the valley. "Who will quench my heart?" she cried out. "This is the revenge of Ibrahim."

Ahmad Daher, the official state doctor for south Lebanon, confirmed yesterday that Mr Rehayel had been shot four times with a high-velocity rifle from a range of between 20 and 50 metres. United Nations peacekeepers, who have continued to monitor the border since the Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, said Israeli troops had killed the young shepherd inside Lebanon. Israeli sources said the teenager was armed and was shot inside Israeli-held lines.

The Shebaa Farms lie at the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel. Israel has occupied it since winning it from Syria in the six-day war of 1967. The UN has ruled that the land belonged to Syria, but a majority of Lebanese claim it as their own, including Hizbollah, who use Israel's occupation of the area as the logic behind their maintenance of armed militia.

Hizbollah's status has come under increasing scrutiny recently after UN resolution 1559 demanded the disarmament of all militia in Lebanon.

Among the farming community of Shebaa, who have seen their livelihoods stripped by the Israeli occupation of land on which they once grew olives in abundance, there was a mood of anger at the UN and defiance against Israel.

"Let Israel know that if they kill anyone of us, the resistance is ready," said Mr Rehayel's father, Yousef, who said he had discovered his son's body just 25 metres from a UN observation post inside Lebanon, but had not received assistance from the UN forces.

Mohammed Atwe, a farmer from Shebaa, pledged to avenge the killing: "At the beginning our resistance was based on words. Now we want to take up arms. There are no blue lines on this land. It is all Lebanese land."