Hariri urges US, France to intervene; Israeli drone violates Lebanese airspace
JERUSALEM: Israel’s military said yesterday it fired into southern Lebanon after a number of anti-tank missiles targeted an Israeli military base and army vehicles near the border, raising fears of a serious escalation with Hezbollah after a week of rising tensions.
“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,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah said in a statement its fighters “destroyed a military vehicle on the road to the Avivim barracks (in northern Israel), killing and wounding those inside.”
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged the United States and France to intervene, contacting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French President Emmanuel Macron’s diplomatic adviser to do so.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese army said Israel fired 40 rockets into the south of the country. After the initial reports of fire from Lebanon, an Israeli military spokesman called on Israelis living within four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the Lebanese border to remain at home and prepare shelters.
The Lebanese military said an Israeli drone, which violated Lebanon’s airspace, dropped incendiary material and sparked a fire in a pine forest by the border yesterday. The fires near the border in Lebanon “originate with operations by our forces in the area,” the Israeli military said in a statement without elaborating. The Lebanese army statement said it was following up with UN peacekeepers but gave no further details.
Residents and security sources at the border in south Lebanon say Israel has in recent days fired flare bombs into the Israeli-occupied Shebaa farms along the border. Lebanese state news agency NNA said Israeli forces fired flare bombs there on Saturday – a tactic sometimes used to burn away brush to prevent an ambush. Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry yesterday instructed its citizens to leave Lebanon immediately, citing “security events and developments”, after a week of growing tensions raised fears of a new war between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement. Bahrain has previously said its citizens should not to travel to Lebanon for any reason.
Tensions have risen in the last week between Israel and its enemy Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement backed by Iran. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday the group’s response to an alleged Israeli drone attack on the group’s Beirut stronghold had been “decided”. Amid the Hezbollah threats, Israel had moved reinforcements into the border area, which had been largely quiet since both long-time enemies fought a month-long war in 2006.
The pre-dawn August 25 attack involved two drones-one exploded and caused damage to a Hezbollah-run media center and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure.
Israel has not claimed responsibility for the incident. The attack in Lebanon came just hours after Israel launched strikes in neighboring Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on the Jewish state.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011 against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah sites. It has pledged to prevent its main enemy Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria.
But a drone attack by Israel inside Lebanon would mark a departure-what Nasrallah had called the first such “hostile action” since a 2006 war between them.
Yesterday’s escalation comes just ahead of Israel’s September 17 election. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as wanting to avoid a major conflict before then due to the political risk involved, but he has also warned Lebanon and Hezbollah to “be careful.”
But while Nasrallah has issued warnings to Israel, Hezbollah’s number two Naim Qassem in an interview with Russia Today last week played down talk of a “war atmosphere.”
“The atmosphere is an atmosphere of response to an aggression,” he said. A 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah took the lives of 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. – Agencies