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Three Lebanese soldiers and an Israeli officer have been killed in the first serious border clash since Israel's 2006 conflict with Lebanon's Hezbollah.
A Lebanese journalist also died in the fighting. Lebanon says troops opened fire after Israeli troops entered its territory. Israel denied the charge.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond "aggressively" to any attack.
Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said militants would not "stand idle" if Israel attacked again.
The US and the EU have urged restraint on all sides.
The BBC's Wyre Davies in Jerusalem says the clash is an indication of the tensions along the Israel-Lebanon border.
The Lebanese army says Israeli soldiers crossed the border to uproot a tree which was blocking their view near the Lebanese village of Adaysseh.
This appears to have been an incident between regular Lebanese troops and the Israeli army.
It would perhaps have been more serious had this been a confrontation between Hezbollah forces and Israel, as was the case back in 2006.
Israel's traditional foe along this border is Hezbollah. Hezbollah is known to have re-armed with missiles ever since the 2006 conflict and the big fear here in northern border area is of a resumption of the battle between Israel and Hezbollah.
The fact that Israel has not put towns and communities in the area on a state of high alert yet is perhaps an indication that Israel does not expect this to escalate further.
The Lebanese army confirmed to the BBC that three of its soldiers had been killed and four wounded. The al-Akhbar newspaper confirmed that one of its journalists, Assaf Abu Rahhal, had also been killed.
In a statement, Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said Lebanese sovereignty had been violated.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement: "Israel has responded and shall respond aggressively in the future to any attempt to disrupt the calm along the northern border or to harm residents of the north or the soldiers protecting them."
An Israeli army spokeswoman told the BBC that two officers had been attacked by "snipers from the Lebanese armed forces" in a "well-planned ambush" during maintenance operations on Israel's side of the border, near the town of Kiryat Shemona.
Earlier, the head of Israel's Northern Command, Maj-Gen Gadi Eizenkot, said the officers had been standing between 300 and 400m from the border, observing Israeli soldiers removing bushes near the border fence.
"Sniper fire was directed at their position and as a result two commanders were injured as a result of the firing," he said.
Maj-Gen Eisenkot said he believed the incident was "a one-time event". "We received requests and demands from the highest ranks in the Lebanese army to cease fire," he added.
The UN peacekeeping force stationed in southern Lebanon, Unifil, has urged both sides to show "maximum restraint" following the clash.
Announcing it was in touch with both governments, Washington said it was "extremely concerned" at the violence and urged "maximum restraint" from both sides as it
"The region has enough tension as it is," US state department spokesman PJ Crowley said.
"The last thing that we want to see is that this incident expand into something more significant."
EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton urged both sides to take "immediate steps" to prevent "a further escalation of tension or any form of further violence".
Israel's Haaretz newspaper said the incident could have been caused by one of the sides misidentifying the correct location of the border.
The exchange comes a day after rockets were fired at the Israeli resort of Eilat.
A stray rocket killed one person in the nearby port of Aqaba in Jordan.
Biggest surprise? Hezbollah doesn't seem to have provoked the thing. Though I want to know the background of the soldiers involved, since Hezbollah has a lot of sympathizers in the Shia's of Lebanese military. Personally, I don't think Israel or Hezbollah are dumb enough to start another confrontation after 2006. I don't think either sides on this clash got their orders from above.
(since this is apparently unrelated to the Palestinians in any tangible way, let's try to have a fruitful discussion about the conflict in Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah areas.)