Israel has confirmed that a battalion commander was killed in clashes with Lebanese troops that also claimed the lives of two Lebanese soldiers and a newspaper reporter.

The casualties occurred after Lebanese and Israeli troops exchanged fire at a border location that the Israeli Defense Forces described as being west of the Israeli town of Misgav Am.

Lebanon reported that two of its soldiers had been killed in the exchange of fire on Tuesday.

A Lebanese officer said an Israeli shell hit a home in the Lebanese town of Adeisseh, which wounded a civilian. A security official said Assaf Abu Rahhal of the Al-Akhbar newspaper died when an Israeli shell landed next to him in Adeisseh.

Early reports from Lebanon's Al-Manar TV said that a "high ranking Israeli officer" had also died Tuesday.

A few hours later, Israel confirmed that Lt. Col. Dov Harari had been killed. The IDF identified him as a 45-year-old battalion commander from the coastal city of Netanya.

A 30-year-old Israeli platoon commander, Capt. Ezra Lakia, sustained "severe injuries in the same incident," the IDF said.

The UN said the initial clash lasted about five minutes, though witnesses said sporadic gunfire and shelling continued for several hours. The UN urged Israel and Lebanon to exercise "maximum restraint" in the wake of what was described as being the most serious clashes since Israel went to war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah four years ago.

But both sides blamed one another after the clash started when Israeli troops attempted to remove a tree from ground that Lebanese troops said was on the Lebanese side of the border. The IDF says the tree was on the other side of a border fence, but "still within Israeli territory."

The IDF said it was fired upon while "carrying out routine maintenance" that it had coordinated ahead of time with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

The IDF acknowledged returning fire on the Lebanese Armed Forces, which had said it fired warning shots before Israeli retaliated.

Ronith Daher, a 32-year-old Lebanese journalist said she saw a UNIFIL peacekeeper warn Israeli forces that Lebanese troops would open fire if they crossed the fence.

Daher said that when the Israeli troops proceeded to cross the fence, Lebanese soldiers fired into the air. Israeli soldiers fired directly back at their Lebanese opponents, she said.

But Israel's Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, the military's northern commander, said the Lebanese troops shot inside Israel without provocation. He said Lebanese snipers shot Israeli officers standing more than 300 metres from the fence, as opposed to the soldiers removing bushes by the fence.

Eizenkot said Israel responded to the "isolated" incident with infantry, tanks and artillery fire. It also used helicopters and artillery fire to attack a Lebanese army base and command centre.

UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti told CTV News Channel the peacekeepers are currently focused on keeping the situation calm and in ascertaining precisely what happened on Tuesday.

"The situation is presently quiet in the south of Lebanon," Tenenti told CTV News Channel by telephone from Naqoura, Lebanon, on Tuesday afternoon.

Four years ago, a war between Israel and Hezbollah left 1,200 Lebanese people dead, as well as 160 Israelis.

The incident on Tuesday did not appear to involve Hezbollah fighters.

With files from The Associated Press