JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli troops shot at Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas in a disputed border zone on Thursday, a day after an attack that killed an Israeli officer in the worst violence there for six months.
The Israeli army said soldiers shot and possibly killed at least one guerrilla during a firefight with Hizbollah gunmen near an army post in Israeli-controlled territory in the flashpoint Shebaa Farms area on the border with Lebanon.
A Hizbollah spokesman in Beirut said the Shi”ite Muslim group”s forces did not respond to the Israeli fire.
Israeli troops patrolling in the Shebaa Farms area clashed with at least two guerrillas who had not returned to Lebanese territory on Wednesday after an attack in which their unit had killed an Israeli officer, an army spokeswoman said.
"This morning we identified several members of the Hizbollah cell near the army post. We don”t yet know how many people we hit," said army spokeswoman Major Sharon Feingold, adding that the incident took place in Israeli-controlled territory.
Israeli military sources added that it appeared that one guerrilla was killed and the body of another, killed in fighting on Wednesday, was found in the brush near the army base.
In Beirut, a Hizbollah spokesman said: "It was Israeli fire directed at the Lebanese territories. There was no exchange of fire, we did not fire back."
Hizbollah was instrumental in ending Israel”s 22-year occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000. The two foes have clashed sporadically in the Shebaa Farms area since then.
The United Nations says Israel”s withdrawal from Lebanon is complete and Shebaa Farms is Israeli-occupied Syrian land. Lebanon and Syria say the area is still occupied Lebanese soil.
A U.N. resolution called last year for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and Hizbollah to disarm. Syrian troops pulled out in April under Lebanese and international pressure but the guerrilla group vowed not to lay down its weapons.
Israeli military officials said they believed Hizbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, carried out the attack to flex its muscles after Lebanese elections returned an anti-Syrian majority to parliament for the first time since the 1975-1990 civil war.
Residents of southern Lebanon said Israeli warplanes dropped leaflets overnight addressed to the Lebanese people and government.
"Hizbollah, known for serving foreign interests, has again carried out terrorist acts inside Israel to trigger a response that will serve its terrorist existence," they read.
"Such irresponsible acts could bring destruction and take Lebanon back to the years of horror."