Senior Lebanese, Israeli and UN military officials met late Monday to ease tensions in the aftermath of the cross-border attack in which a Lebanese soldier shot dead IDF Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen Sunday night.
Reuters quoted United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon commander Maj.-Gen. Paolo Serra as saying that both the Israeli and Lebanese representatives had shown full cooperation in striving toward “restoring calm in the area” following the attack.
“We discussed concrete steps to strengthen the existing security arrangements (on the border) to prevent the recurrence of such incidents,” Serra said.
Referring to the Sunday night shooting, Serra echoed Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati’s statement that it was an isolated incident instigated by a lone individual.
Earlier Monday, Mikati said in a meeting with the UN’s special coordinator for Lebanon, Derek Plumbly, that the attack was ”an isolated incident of limited scope.”
At that meeting, Mikati told Plumbly that the Lebanese soldier who shot Cohen had not been given orders to shoot and that he had acted independently.
Mikati added that he hoped the Lebanese-Israeli border would remain quiet, as per UN Resolution 1701.
The Lebanese Army gunman who killed Cohen turned himself in to authorities in Lebanon on Monday morning, Lebanese media reported.
Cohen, 31, from the northern town of Afula, was buried in Haifa on Monday afternoon. He is survived by his wife and 11-month-old daughter, Shahar. Cohen’s father, Yossi, holding back tears in TV interviews, called him “a golden child… an angel… beloved by everyone.”
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel would request an explanation from the Lebanese Army about whether the soldier acted on his own, without orders, and what the Lebanese Army would do to prevent such incidents in the future.
Ya’alon took a combative tone on Monday morning when he blamed the Lebanese government and military for the attack, asserting that “Israel will not abide violations of its jurisdiction along any border, and certainly not the Lebanese border.”
Lebanese media reported that Israeli jets were flying over various areas of south Lebanon on Monday morning.
At around 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night, Cohen was driving his civilian vehicle near the naval base next to the border town of Rosh Hanikra, when shots were fired at the car from the Lebanese side of the fence.
The gunman ran toward the border, and fired six or seven bullets at the Israeli vehicle, which was on the Israeli side of the fence, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported. He then fled into a wooded area and hid until Monday morning, when he turned himself in.
Two bullets hit Cohen in the chest and neck, and he lost control of the vehicle, causing it to roll over. According to the ZAKA rescue and recovery services, Cohen was evacuated to Nahariya’s Western Galilee Medical Center.
“A member of the security forces was brought to us in critical condition,” said the hospital’s director, Masoud Barhoum. “We attempted to resuscitate him for several minutes, but despite our efforts, we had to declare him dead.”
Later, army spokeswoman Lt. Libby Weiss said Israeli forces identified “suspicious movement” along the border just after midnight, and shot two members of Lebanon’s armed forces. She said the shooting occurred near where Cohen was killed. Weiss had no details on the condition of the Lebanese soldiers.
The IDF initially searched the area in case the gunman had crossed the border, but there were no signs of a breach.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that Israel and Lebanon were “cooperating with the United Nations… to ascertain the facts.” Ban urged both sides to exercise restraint, as did the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. Ban’s statement came as Israel conveyed a severe protest to the UN over “this outrageous breach of Israel’s sovereignty” and beefed up its presence along the border.
Initial reports said Israel regarded the attack as a “terrorist incident,” and believed the Lebanese shooter was acting alone. IDF troops who witnessed the shooting were said to have seen other Lebanese Armed Forces personnel converge on the gunman after he opened fire. The shooting happened near the spot where a bomb blew up an army jeep, injuring four soldiers, in August.
The IDF issued a statement saying it “reserved the right to respond at a time and in a manner” of its choosing.
A Hezbollah-affiliated website reported that the Lebanese terror group had put its fighters in southern Lebanon on high alert after the incident.
In 2010, Lebanese snipers shot at Israeli soldiers on the border, killing one and injuring another, sparking an international incident. Three Lebanese soldiers and a journalist were killed in Israeli retaliatory strikes. Israel and Hezbollah fought a three-week war in 2006, but the border with Lebanon has remained mostly quiet since.
AP, Lazar Berman and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.