Israel, Hezbollah exchange fire across Lebanon border amid concern over Gaza war spillover

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Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised address at a memorial ceremony to mark one week since the passing of Mohammad Yaghi, one of the powerful armed group’s figures, in Baalbek, Lebanon, on Jan. 5, 2024.

Mohamed Azakir | Reuters

Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah group said on Saturday it had fired rockets at Israel and its arch-foe said it had struck a “terrorist cell” in retaliation, as top U.S. and EU diplomats visited the region to seek ways to halt spillover from the war.

Shortly after rocket sirens sounded across northern Israel, the Israeli military said that “approximately 40 launches from Lebanon toward the area of Meron in northern Israel were identified.”

There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.

Hezbollah said it had hit a key Israeli observation post with 62 rockets as a “preliminary response” to the killing of Hamas’ deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday.

Tensions have been especially high since Arouri was killed by a drone in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hamas’ Lebanese ally Hezbollah, in an attack widely attributed to Israel.

Read more about the Israel-Hamas war:

The head of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, said on Friday Lebanon would be “exposed” to more Israeli operations if his group did not respond to the killing.

Israel’s military said it had responded to Saturday’s rocket attack with an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) strike on “the terrorist cell responsible for the launches toward the area of Metula.”

Israeli fighter jets and troops also struck a series of Hezbollah targets in the areas of Ayta ash Shab, Yaroun, and Ramyeh in southern Lebanon, it said, striking a launch post, military sites, and “terrorist infrastructure.”

Western diplomacy

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the European Union’s senior diplomat Josep Borrell began a new diplomatic push on Friday to stop the spillover from the three-month-old Gaza war into Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Israel and Hezbollah often trade fire across the Lebanese border, the West Bank is seething with emotion and the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen seem determined to continue attacks on Red Sea shipping lanes until Israel stops bombarding Gaza.

Israel’s onslaught began after Hamas militants from Gaza attacked Israel on Oct. 7, with 1,200 people killed and 240 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

The offensive, aimed at wiping out the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, has so far killed 22,722 people, according to Palestinian health officials, and devastated the densely populated enclave of 2.3 million people. At least 122 Palestinians have been killed and 256 others injured in Gaza in the past 24 hours alone, they said on Saturday.

There has been no let-up in the conflict despite several trips to the region by Blinken and other senior diplomats.

The official Palestinian WAFA news agency reported on Saturday that 18 Palestinians were killed by an Israeli attack on a house east of Khan Younis in Gaza. And in the West Bank village of Beit Rima, the Palestinian health ministry said a 17-year-old was shot dead by Israeli forces and four other people were injured.

‘They still bombed us’

The traumatized residents of Gaza, most of whose population has been displaced by the bombardment, are facing a devastating humanitarian crisis, with food, medicine and fuel supplies running low.

Standing outside a morgue in Khan Younis in southern Gaza Strip on Saturday, 11-year-old Mahmoud Awad said his parents and siblings had been killed by Israeli airstrikes.

“We were in Shati refugee camp and they (Israeli army) dropped fliers saying that Gaza is a battlefield, so we fled to Khan Younis because it was a safe place, and they still bombed us,” he said.

Nearby Palestinian men and women wept for family members also killed in the Israeli bombardment.

Israel denies targeting civilians in its campaign to eradicate Hamas but says the militants deliberately embed themselves and their infrastructure among civilian populations to make it harder for Israel’s military to strike.

Israel has released videos and photos in support of its claim. Hamas denies this accusation.

Israel, which says it has killed 8,000 militants since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, has announced a more targeted approach in Gaza as it faces global pressure to limit the huge civilian casualties.

Israel has listed 175 soldiers as killed in action since its offensive began.

Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, is backed by Iran. Other Iranian-backed militants have hit U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria and struck Israel from Lebanon in what they call revenge for Israel’s offensive.

Blinken held talks on Saturday with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan and was scheduled also to meet President Tayyip Erdogan, a fierce critic of Israeli military action in Gaza. Turkey, which unlike most of its NATO allies does not class Hamas as a terrorist group, has offered to mediate in the war.

During his week-long regional tour, Blinken is also due to visit Israel, the occupied West Bank, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.


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