BEIRUT, Lebanon - The shaky cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah was tested Wednesday as the Israeli army fired artillery into a disputed border region in response to what it said was an attack from inside Lebanon. An Israeli soldier was killed in a separate incident, the army said.
Lebanese security and military officials said there had been no fire by either Hezbollah or the Lebanese army in the region. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak with reporters.
Meanwhile, three Lebanese soldiers were killed Wednesday while they dismantled an unexploded missile in southern Lebanon, Lebanese security officials said.
The three, including an officer, were killed near the village of Tibnine early afternoon.
There was no immediate comment from the army command. It was unclear whether the missile was Israeli or from Hezbollah guerrillas.
Sporadic violence has marked the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that took hold Aug. 14 and ended 34 days of ferocious fighting, but the truce has thus far held.
Israel claimed there was a three-hour exchange of fire in the disputed Israeli-occupied Chebaa Farms area, where the borders of Lebanon, Syria and Israel meet.
Lebanese security officials said Israeli military fired artillery into the village of Chebaa, which is controlled by Lebanon. The officials said the artillery fire landed near Lebanese army positions but no one was hurt.
Lebanese troops entered the village of Chebaa last week for the first time in four decades as part of an eventual deployment of 15,000 troops in southern Lebanon under the cease-fire deal.
In a separate incident, an Israeli soldier was killed and three were wounded by a land mine Israel planted in southern Lebanon, the army said.
The army had planted the minefield just across Israel's northern border to prevent Hezbollah guerrillas from infiltrating, the military said. Reports from Lebanon said the soldiers' tank drove over the land mine, but the Israeli military said it could not confirm that.
The dead soldier was the second casualty since an Aug. 14 truce ended a monthlong war between Israel and Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas.
Lebanon has demanded that Israel hand over maps of the mine emplacements in the region. Hezbollah guerrillas also have laid mines in the south before and during the recent fighting to stop the Israeli army's ground push.
Another Israeli soldier was reportedly shot in the head during a military operation in the Lebanese border village of Taibeh, the Al-Arabiya satellite TV channel said. It did not say if the soldier was killed or how badly wounded.
The Israeli military said it could not confirm the incident.
Hundreds of Israeli troops have remained on the positions in southern Lebanon they occupied during the 34-day war as they wait for a U.N. peacekeeping force to move into the region and guarantee a buffer zone between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas.
Under the U.N.-brokered agreement, Lebanon plans to deploy 15,000 soldiers in the south, establishing a government force in the region for the first time in four decades.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Israel would not lift its air and sea blockade until international peacekeepers were deployed at the Beirut international airport and along the Lebanese border with Syria. Hezbollah's vast arsenal of rockets and other weapons is believed to originate in Iran and reach the guerrillas across the Syrian border.
Israeli officials said Olmert wasn't issuing an ultimatum. But the tough stance appeared to be an attempt to pressure the international community to speed the dispatch of a vanguard of the 15,000-strong force of international peacekeepers called for by the cease-fire agreement.
However, European Union nations who are expected to lead the U.N. peacekeeping force have moved slowly, apparently wary of committing soldiers without safeguards to ensure they don't get sucked into the Middle East conflict.
Diplomats said that E.U. talks taking place in Belgium on Wednesday were unlikely to produce a breakthrough, though there were expectations that nations may come forward with at least tentative offers of more troops ahead of a meeting scheduled Friday with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Meanwhile, Syrian President Bashar Assad rejected the U.N. deployment along Syria's borders with Lebanon, saying such a move would create animosity between the two countries.
"This is an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty and a hostile position," Assad said in an interview with Dubai Television to be aired later Wednesday.