Israel holds Lebanon responsible for soldier's shooting death
Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, 31, shot dead while traveling in his vehicle near Rosh Hanikra border crossing • IDF returns fire, confirms hit • Israel files official complaint with UNIFIL • "We maintain the right to exercise self-defense," IDF says.
Lilach Shoval, News Agencies and Israel Hayom Staff
The scene where Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen was killed near the Israel-Lebanon border on Sunday night
Photo credit: Michel Dot Com
The late Shlomi Cohen and his wife Maayan
Israel Defense Forces Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, 31, from the northern town of Afula, was killed Sunday night by Lebanese sniper fire while driving alone near the Israel-Lebanon border in an unarmored military vehicle.
The Israel Defense Forces returned fire after the incident, hitting a Lebanese army position across the border, and troops converged on the area and canvassed it to ensure that the border had not been breached. Military 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 Spokesperson's Unit said an investigation into the incident was continuing and that "the IDF reserves the right to react at a time and place of its choosing. A grievance has been filed with the U.N."
"We will not tolerate aggression against the State of Israel, and maintain the right to exercise self defense against perpetrators of attacks against Israel and its civilians," military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner told Reuters.
The IDF has filed an official complaint with United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon. UNIFIL said it was working with both sides to keep the incident from escalating.
"We are now trying to determine the facts of what happened and the situation is ongoing," spokesman Andrea Tenenti said. "UNIFIL's force commander is in contact with counterparts in the Lebanese and Israeli army, urging restraint."
According to available details, the incident took place around 8:30 p.m. while Cohen was driving an unarmored military vehicle near the Rosh Hanikra border crossing, delivering a communications device to a nearby post. He was alone in the vehicle at the time. The IDF maintains that Cohen was not driving near the border fence, but on another route, some 40 meters (130 feet) from the border and some 100 meters (330 feet) from a nearby IDF post.
Cohen was treated at the scene by IDF paramedics, who rushed him to the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya, where doctors pronounced his death.
"A little before 9 p.m., a soldier was admitted to the hospital in critical condition," Dr. Masad Barhoum, director of the Western Galilee Hospital told reporters. "He was brought in by a military ambulance and appeared to be suffering from injuries to the upper torso, chest and neck. We began resuscitation procedures but to no avail."
Army Radio quoted a report on Hezbollah's TV network Al Manar as saying that the shooter had fired seven to 10 rounds across the border. Lebanon's National News Agency confirmed the shooting by a member of the Lebanese army, saying it was unclear why the soldier had opened fire. The Voice of Lebanon radio station reported that the soldier, identified as Hassan Ibrahim, had fled his post following the incident, but returned to his base on Monday morning.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in statement that both sides were "cooperating with the United Nations ... to ascertain the facts." He urged both sides to exercise restraint. Lebanese security officials did not immediately comment on the killing.
"There was a very serious border incident yesterday and a soldier was killed. First and foremost, I would like to convey my condolences to Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen's family," Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said in a statement released Monday.
"From what we know, he was shot by Lebanese soldier. We hold the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army responsible for what happens of their side [of the border].
"IDF and UNIFIL officials will meet later today and we will demand that the Lebanese army explain what happened. If this was indeed a case of a soldier who had gone rogue then we need to know what they intend to do to stop such incidents from happening again. We will not tolerate any infringement of our sovereignty along our borders," he said.
Cohen is survived by his wife, Maayan, and his one-year-old daughter. He will be laid to rest on Monday afternoon at the Haifa military cemetery.