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Battle tree 'in Israeli territory'

The tree at the centre of clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border which resulted in the deaths of four people was in Israeli territory, a United Nations (UN) peacekeeping force has said.

Troops from both countries exchanged fire on Tuesday in a battle that killed a senior Israeli officer, two Lebanese soldiers and a journalist. The violence started when Israel tried to cut down a tree that both sides claimed was in their territory.

Lieutenant Naresh Bhatt, a spokesman for the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, said officials have determined the tree was in Israeli territory. The Israeli army said it is continuing to uproot trees in the area.

The UN called for "maximum restraint" on Tuesday and said it was working with both sides to restore calm. After an initial clash of about five minutes, intermittent shelling and gunfire went on for several hours.

A Lebanese army officer said the battle started when Israeli troops tried to remove a tree from the Lebanese side of the border.

The Israeli military's northern commander, Major General Gadi Eizenkot, accused Lebanese forces of shooting toward forces inside Israeli territory without any provocation. He said that while soldiers were removing bushes by the fence, Lebanese military snipers shot two officers who were more than 300 yards away from the fence.

The military said a 45-year-old battalion commander was killed and a captain was critically wounded.

A spokesman said Israel responded with infantry, tanks and artillery fire, and later sent helicopters and artillery fire at a Lebanese army base and command centre.

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