JERUSALEM, Sept. 18 (JTA) – An Israeli soldier was killed and three others wounded during heavy exchanges between Israeli troops and Hezbollah gunmen in southern Lebanon. Lt. Ayal Shimoni of Kibbutz Ashdot Ya’acov Me’uhad was killed, and two other soldiers lightly wounded, when their tank was hit by a missile fired by Hezbollah during a clash Thursday in the eastern sector of the security zone. Another Israeli soldier was lightly wounded Thursday by mortar fire at an Israel Defense Force outpost in the western sector of the security zone. Israel retaliated with air strikes and shelling of Hezbollah targets. Nine Lebanese civilians were reported wounded in the clashes. The death brought the total number of Israelis killed in clashes in Lebanon in recent weeks to 22. The recent rise in Israeli fatalities has renewed debate in Israel over the army’s presence in the security zone. Defenders of the policy say it is necessary to protect Israel’s northern settlements until a political agreement is reached. Critics argue that it only leads to more casualties. The clashes followed two days of relative quiet in southern Lebanon. Four other Israeli soldiers died in separate clashes last Friday and Sunday with Hezbollah gunmen. On Sept. 5, 12 Israeli naval commandos were killed in a raid on Lebanon, in what was the IDF’s heaviest casualty count in more than 12 years in a single military operation. And five Israeli soldiers were killed when they were trapped in a brush fire following an Aug. 28 battle with members of the Shi’ite Amal movement.