To defuse tension, Lebanon has demanded that Israel return the bodies of three Hezbollah guerrillas killed in this week's border clashes, the worst in several years. "What is required is the handover of the bodies of the resistance fighters who fell as martyrs during the latest confrontations in order to defuse the tension on Lebanon's international border," Prime Minister Fuad Saniora told reporters during a visit to Qatar on Wednesday.
A Lebanese Cabinet minister close to Hezbollah reiterated the demand Thursday, warning Israel that unless the bodies were returned, the militant group might try to kidnap Israelis to trade them for the bodies.
"They must be handed over in order to avoid an escalation," Health Minister Mohammed Jawad Khalife of the Amal party told Voice of Lebanon radio. "It is known that the resistance will try to secure the return of the bodies one way or another, and this usually ends up in negotiations to trade them for the bodies of Israeli soldiers or for prisoners."
In Israel, there was no immediate response to the Lebanese demand. Four guerrillas were killed and 11 Israeli soldiers were wounded in Monday's fighting on the south Lebanon border. Israeli warplanes and artillery bombarded Hezbollah positions, and the guerrillas fired missiles at Israeli military outposts.
Israel killed three guerrillas who crossed the border, and a fourth wounded guerrilla was retrieved by his comrades and later died on the Lebanese side.
Lebanese security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the U.N. peacekeeping force on the border had been contacted about the demand for the bodies' return. UNIFIL officials had no immediate comment.
On Wednesday, the fighting briefly resumed when an Israeli civilian in a hang glider drifted across the border and landed inside Lebanon. Israeli troops shot at Hezbollah guerrillas who were 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, Prime Minister Saniora said he condemned the pamphlet drop as yet another example of Israeli violation of Lebanese territory, according to a report by Lebanon's official National News Agency. Lebanon has repeatedly complained of Israeli overflights, which have been condemned by the United Nations. The Lebanese Cabinet was expected to discuss this week's border clashes at its meeting scheduled for later Thursday, reports the AP. I.L.