The Israeli army claimed on 21 January that it had come under rocket attack from Hezbollah guerrillas in the disputed Shebaa farms border area in southern Lebanon. The clashes are the first for months in the region, where sporadic skirmishes have broken out since the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000. The UN deems the area Syrian and therefore not covered by Resolution 425 calling for Israel to withdraw from Lebanon. The potential for escalated conflict in southern Lebanon has grown since Israel and Hezbollah each said that they feared the other would take advantage of the turbulence caused by US-led military action against Iraq to launch an all-out attack. UAE daily Al-Bayan reported recently that Hezbollah had carried out a major reshuffle of its military command, helped by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, in case of such an assault. On 15 January, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked the UN to extend the mandate of the peacekeeping force patrolling the Lebanon-Israel border for a further six months, and reported that the area had been relatively quiet recently apart from Israeli violations of Lebanese airspace and Hezbollah anti-aircraft fire in response (MEED 16:1:03
In a related development, Lebanese-American Congressman Darrell Issa on 21 January called on Hezbollah to explain what happened to four Israelis captured in the border region in 2000 and allow the Red Cross to see them, if they are still alive. The group has said that one, who was taken separately and later than the others, is alive and has refused to give details on the other three.