BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) – The body of a shepherd who went missing this week near Lebanon’s border with Israel was found Thursday in the disputed Chebaa Farms area, said Lebanese security officials.
The discovery of his bullet-riddled corpse is expected to revive tension along the border as the leader of the Hezbollah militant group, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, warned Wednesday that if the shepherd, who came under Israeli fire, was dead, the guerrillas would “punish the killers without hesitation.”
The Israeli army said late Wednesday that an armed man with binoculars was seen crossing the U.N.-demarcated border. When he opened fire, Israeli soldiers responded and apparently hit him, the army said.
Lebanese officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said police found the body of a 15-year-old shepherd, Ibrahim Youssef Rhayyel, on the Lebanese side of the border. U.N. peacekeepers brought the body to a hospital in the south Lebanese town of Marjayoun.
A U.N. peacekeeping official confirmed the finding of the body, but would say only that it belonged to a Lebanese. Addressing a gathering late Wednesday to mark the death of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Hezbollah’s Nasrallah insisted that Rhayyel was a civilian and not one of his group’s fighters.
Chebaa Farms is frequently the scene of fighting between Hezbollah and Israeli troops. A tiny parcel of land held by Israel, Lebanon claims the territory and Hezbollah has vowed to liberate it. But U.N. cartographers say it belongs to that part of Syria which is occupied by Israel. It lies only a few kilometers (miles) from Israel proper.
In November, fighting in Chebaa Farms left four Hezbollah guerrillas dead and 11 Israeli soldiers wounded.
The last flare-up in cross-border violence was in late December when rockets fired from Lebanon crashed in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, damaging property but causing no casualties. Israel retaliated with an airstrike against a radical Palestinian guerrilla base on a hill south of Beirut.