Menu Close

Israeli strikes on ‘Hezbollah cells’ escalate conflict

Add to my bookmarks
ClosePlease login

No account yet? Register

Share This Article:

Picture: Jalaa Marey / AFP / Taken on October 8, 2023 – A column of Israeli Merkava tanks is amassed on the outskirts of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona near the border with Lebanon on October 8, 2023. Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Israel said they traded cross-border fire on October 8, as Israel fought the Shiite movement’s ally Hamas on its southern flank a day after militants from the Palestinian group stormed its Gaza frontier.

By AFP and Reuters

THE Israeli military said yesterday it had struck “two terrorist cells” and a Hezbollah post in response to attempted firing from Lebanon as cross-border shelling continued while Israel fights Hamas in Gaza.

The latest skirmishes came a day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah warned that the war between Israel and Hamas could turn into a regional conflict if Israel pushed on with its offensive in the Palestinian territory.

“In response to two terrorist cells attempting to fire from Lebanon toward Israeli territory, the IDF (army) struck the cells and a Hezbollah observation post,” a military statement said.

It said it had also responded to mortar fire from Lebanon into northern Israel, where no casualties were reported.

Since October 7, Israel has been engaged in a fierce war with Gaza rulers Hamas after the Palestinian militant group carried out a deadly attack in southern Israel that killed 1,400 people, mainly civilians, according to Israeli officials.

Israel has retaliated with relentless strikes and a ground invasion of Gaza, where more than 9,200 people, mostly civilians, have been killed according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

The Lebanon-Israel border has also been a scene of cross-border shelling over the past month, with firing between the Israeli military on one side and Hezbollah and its allies on the other.

In his first speech since the Israel-Hamas war broke out four weeks ago, Nasrallah warned that “all options” were open for an expansion of the conflict to Lebanon as he blamed the US for the war in Gaza.

“America is entirely responsible for the ongoing war on Gaza and its people, and Israel is simply a tool of execution,” Nasrallah said in a tele¬vised broadcast, calling the conflict “decisive”. “Whoever wants to prevent a regional war – and this is addressed to the Americans – must quickly stop the aggression on Gaza.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Hezbollah it would “pay an unimaginable price” for any misstep.

Call for pause

On Friday, top US diplomat Antony Blinken left Israel largely empty-handed after urging its leaders to do more to protect Palestinian civilians in Gaza during their war to destroy Hamas.

Israel resisted US calls for a pause in fighting and pressed its siege of Gaza City yesterday, after deadly strikes hit an ambulance convoy and a school-turned-refugee shelter.

Israeli ground forces have encircled Gaza City, trying to rout Hamas in retaliation for raids that killed people inside Israel, most of them civilians.

Israel’s military describes Gaza City as “the centre of the Hamas terror organisation” and says it is targeting operatives, weapons stores, tunnel complexes, drone launching posts and command centres there.

Spokesperson Richard Hecht said forces were engaged in “intense, close-quarters combat” with Hamas fighters. But with strikes and ground fighting taking place in densely populated urban areas, many civilians have died.

A key focus of his trip was to convince Israel to enact “humanitarian pauses”, which the US believes could help secure the release of roughly 240 hostages thought to be in Hamas captivity, and to allow aid to be distributed to Gaza’s beleaguered population.

Netanyahu, who has made a political career out of hawkish security policies, warned that there could be no “temporary truce” in Gaza until Hamas releases the hostages.

Meanwhile, Israel says it has struck 12,000 targets across the Palestinian territory since “Operation Iron Swords” began last month. It is one of the fiercest bombing campaigns in recent memory.

In Gaza City’s centre, there was another strike on Friday, this one on the doorstep of the territory’s largest hospital Al-Shifa.

Israel’s military said it had targeted an ambulance used by a “Hamas terrorist cell” and had “neutralised” those inside. “We emphasise that this area in Gaza is a war zone. Civilians are repeatedly called upon to evacuate southward for their own safety,” the Israel Defence Forces said.

The Hamas government said 15 people were killed, mirroring figures released by the Palestinian Red Crescent, which said a convoy of five vehicles had been destined for the Rafah border crossing with Egypt when they were struck multiple times.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said he was “utterly shocked” by the strike. “We reiterate: patients, health workers, facilities and ambulances must be protected at all times. Always,” he said.

A senior White House official said that Hamas had tried to use a US-brokered deal opening the Egyptian border crossing to get its cadres out.

Regional tension

Yesterday, Blinken was due to hold talks in Amman with the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

That meeting comes amid mounting Arab anger over the civilian death toll from war, and increasing fears that the conflict could spread.

The six-nation talks in Amman are also likely to touch on the question of Gaza’s future beyond the war.

The US has renewed calls for the creation of a Palestinian state, but few expect success now after decades of failure.

In Tel Aviv, Blinken said the two-state solution – a Palestinian state that sits alongside Israel – was the “best viable path – indeed, the only path” to peace and security for both communities. Netanyahu has spent decades vehemently opposing that vision. And it is unclear what appetite still shocked and grieving Israelis will have for reconciliation or concessions.

The US has also urged the Palestinian Authority, which ceded power to Hamas in Gaza more than 15 years ago, to retake control.

A representative of the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas will also attend the meeting in Amman. – AFP and Reuters