Israel agrees to return bodies of Hezbollah guerrillas killed in border clash |

Israel agrees to return bodies of Hezbollah guerrillas killed in border clash

BEIRUT, Lebanon – Israel on Thursday agreed to return the remains of three Hezbollah guerrillas killed in this week’s border clashes, after Lebanon said such a move was vital to restoring calm to the area.The Israeli military issued a statement in Jerusalem saying Israel would transfer the bodies of the guerrillas “following the formal request made by the Lebanese government.” It said the handover would take place at the Naqoura border crossing Friday morning.Lebanese Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife had warned that the militant group might try to kidnap Israelis to trade for the bodies.”It is known that the resistance will try to secure the return of the bodies one way or another,” he told Voice of Lebanon Radio. “And this usually ends up in negotiations to trade them for the bodies of Israeli soldiers or for prisoners.”Prime Minister Fuad Saniora first made the demand during a visit to Qatar on Wednesday.Four guerrillas were killed and 11 Israeli soldiers were wounded in Monday’s fighting on the south Lebanon border, the worst in several years. Israeli warplanes and artillery bombarded Hezbollah positions, and the guerrillas fired missiles at Israeli military outposts.Israel killed three guerrillas who crossed the border. A fourth guerrilla, who was wounded and retrieved by his comrades, died on the Lebanese side.Last year, Hezbollah swapped an Israeli businessman and the bodies of three Israeli soldiers for about 400 Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners.The fighting briefly resumed Wednesday when an Israeli civilian in a hang glider drifted across the border and landed inside Lebanon. Israeli troops shot at Hezbollah guerrillas apparently trying to capture him. He managed to run back to Israel.Earlier Wednesday, Israeli planes dropped thousands of anti-Hezbollah leaflets over Beirut and other Lebanese regions.In Qatar, Saniora condemned the pamphlet drop as an example of Israeli violation of Lebanese territory, Lebanon’s official National News Agency reported. Lebanon has repeatedly complained of Israeli overflights, which have been condemned by the United Nations.The Lebanese Cabinet issued a statement Thursday holding Israel responsible for this week’s border clashes and calling the distribution of the anti-Hezbollah leaflets “a threat to the security and stability of Lebanon which aims at provoking Lebanese against each other.”The statement called on the U.N. Security Council to consider all the facts on the ground before issuing any decisions.On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council expressed concern about the fighting, appealing for restraint on both sides.Hezbollah has denied it started Monday’s fighting. But the U.N. has said the shooting started on the Lebanese side of the border.Lebanese Foreign Minister Fawzi Salloukh objected to the U.N. statement, saying Lebanon’s repeated complaints about Israeli violations have “not met with the necessary decisiveness” by the international community.”And now the aggressor is being treated as the victim,” Salloukh said of Israel.Hezbollah, a militant Shiite Muslim group, is a close ally of Syria and is backed by Iran. The fighting may have been intended to take the pressure off Syria, which is facing an international probe into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.Israel, under military pressure from Hezbollah, withdrew its army from a border buffer zone in southern Lebanon in 2000, ending 18 years of occupation.An escalation of tensions in the region could strengthen Syria’s hand with the United Nations by underlining the need for Syrian influence in maintaining peace.Vail, Colorado

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