02 September, 2019
BEIRUT/ TEHRAN/ JERUSALEM: Israel and Hezbollah exchanged fire along the Lebanese border after a week of rising tensions.
Israel’s military has said it fired into southern Lebanon on Sunday after a number of anti-tank missiles by Hezbollah targeted its army base and vehicles near the border.
The missiles hit several targets in Israel’s border town of Avivim on Sunday, said the Israeli army, following which it retaliated.
According to Hezbollah, the missiles launched from Lebanon destroyed a tank, killing and wounding those inside it, AFP news agency reported.
Israel, however, said the attack did not lead to any casualties on its side.
In its statement, the Israeli army said “a number of anti-tank missiles were fired from Lebanon towards an Israel Defense Forces base and military vehicles”.
“A number of hits have been confirmed,” the Israeli army added.
Following the attack, Israel responded with shelling, claiming to have struck at least 100 targets inside Lebanon.
The shelling has since died down with the Israeli military saying the latest round of fighting with Hezbollah appears to be over.
Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, told reporters later on Sunday that Hezbollah missiles caused damage on the base and struck a military ambulance.
Conricus said the “tactical events” appear to have ended, adding that deeper “strategic threats” posed by Hezbollah remain.
The Lebanese army said Israel fired at least 40 shells towards the border towns of Yaroun and Maroun al-Ras in response to the missile attack.
Israeli media also reported at least one air raid took place.
Following Sunday’s back and forth fire, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and France’s top diplomat to discuss the events.
Hariri’s office said he made the calls “asking the United States and France to intervene in the face of developments at the southern border”, Reuters news agency reported.
In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, the United Nations’ UNIFIL mission, which is present in the border region between the two countries, called for restraint from both sides.
“The head of mission is in close contact with the parties, urging maximum restraint and asking to seize any activities that are endangering the cessation of hostilities,” UNIFIL told Al Jazeera.
Hezbollah retaliation was expected
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr, reporting from the Lebanese capital of Beirut, said people were bracing for a response like this from Hezbollah.
“It (Hezbollah) is blaming Israel for killing two of its members inside Syria, and it is blaming Israel for what it says were two armed drones inside the southern suburbs of Beirut,” she said.
“This is the first time Hezbollah is claiming an attack inside Israel since the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.”
Al Jazeera correspondent Harry Fawcett said Israel had most probably been preparing for retaliation by Hezbollah since last Sunday, when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a television speech that Israel “must pay a price” and that “the need for a response is decided”.
“I think Israel has been ready when Nasrallah made his speech last Sunday when he said that Israel had breached the terms of the rules of engagement that had been in effect since the end of the last conflict in 2006,” Fawcett said from northern Israel.
Fawcett added that the Israeli army radio did not say anything about casualties.
The incident comes after the Lebanese army claimed an Israeli drone violated its airspace and dropped incendiary material and sparked a fire in a pine forest near the border.
Lebanese state news agency NNA said Israeli forces fired flare bombs on Saturday.
A statement by the Israeli army only said the fires near the border “originate with operations by our forces in the area”.
Tensions flared up last week after Hezbollah claimed a drone attack on one of its compounds was carried out by Israel.
At the time, the Iran-backed movement said a drone had landed on the roof of a building housing Hezbollah’s media office, while another drone exploded midair.
Shortly before Nasrallah’s televised speech on Saturday, Israel’s army announced that it had ordered the deployment of additional forces to the “northern command” along the border with Lebanon.
Israeli media have since reported that the drones were targeting hardware for mixing the propellant used in precision-guided missiles.
Hezbollah and Lebanese officials have not responded to those reports.
On Wednesday, the Lebanese army claimed it had fired upon Israeli drones violating its airspace, forcing the aircraft to return across the border. (Int’l Monitoring Desk)