Violence flares on Israel-Lebanon border, Hezbollah fighters killed

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Beirut/Jerusalem: Israel said its aircraft struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon on Saturday and that one of its soldiers was hit by an anti-tank missile, in cross-border fighting that the Iran-backed group said killed six of its fighters.

With the frontier region seeing its worst violence in years as Israel wages war against Gaza’s Hamas militants, the Israeli military said it traded fire with Hezbollah in at least four different areas along the Lebanese border.

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by Hezbollah fighters as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon.Credit: AP

The hostilities have forced residents on both sides to flee their homes. Israel’s military says seven soldiers have been killed since October 7. Hezbollah says 19 of its fighters have died, including the six on Saturday. The violence has also killed civilians and journalists, including one with Reuters.

A security source in Lebanon said one Hezbollah fighter was killed in the Lebanese area of Hula, opposite the Israeli community of Margaliot, which Israel said was the target of an anti-tank missile attack. The Israeli army said it fired back.

Hezbollah, which claimed attacks on Israeli military positions throughout Saturday, later said five other members were killed. Israel said its soldiers struck a cell attempting to launch anti-tank missiles toward the area of Shlomi, an Israeli town some 70 km from Margaliot.

An Israeli soldier was severely injured after being hit by an anti-tank missile near the Israeli town of Bar’am, the military said. Two other soldiers were lightly injured in the incident, it added, without saying if they were also hit by the missile.

The sun sets over Israel. Hundreds of thousands of residents of northern Gaza have fled to the southern part of the territory, following Israel’s vow to launch a ground invasion. Credit: Getty

Hezbollah and Israel’s military have been trading fire at the frontier almost daily since Palestinian group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel on October 7 and Israel retaliated with fierce air strikes on Gaza.

It is the worst escalation in violence along the Israeli-Lebanese border since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Sources have previously said Hezbollah’s attacks were designed to keep Israel’s military occupied without provoking a major war. Israel has said it has no interest in waging war and said if Hezbollah is restrained it will maintain the status quo.

An IDF soldier jumps off the front of a tank in Southern Israel. Credit: Getty

But rising tensions have raised concerns in the region and beyond about the risk of a wider conflict, as Israel makes preparations for an expected land incursion into Gaza.

An Israeli army spokesperson said on Saturday its evacuation of the border town of Kiryat Shmona allowed the military to broaden its actions against Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.

Israel and Hezbollah both reported exchanges of fire on other points along the frontier on Saturday, including around Lebanon’s Alma Al-Shaab and Israel’s Hanita, an area where Hezbollah said it fired guided missiles and Israel responded.

The Palestinian group Islamic Jihad, which has a presence in southern Lebanon, said one of its members was killed in Saturday’s fighting.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has been advising 51 Australian citizens about the possibility of leaving Gaza after the opening of the Rafah border crossing.

Humanitarian aid arrives through the Rafah land crossing into the Gaza Strip.Credit: Getty

Aid arrives

The first humanitarian aid convoy to be sent to the besieged Gaza Strip since war broke out arrived through the Rafah border crossing on Saturday, after wrangling over conditions for delivering relief left it stranded in Egypt.

The United Nations said the 20-truck convoy included life-saving supplies that would be received by the Palestinian Red Crescent, but the aid was a fraction of the quantity needed and it was unclear how much aid will be allowed to pass in coming days.

Rafah is the main route in and out of the Gaza Strip that is not controlled by Israel, and the focus of efforts to deliver relief to Gaza’s 2.3 million residents.

UN officials say at least 100 trucks a day are required in Gaza to cover urgent needs, and that any delivery of aid should be sustained and at scale. Before the outbreak of conflict, several hundred trucks were normally arriving in the enclave daily.

Large London rally

About 100,000 people joined a pro-Palestinian demonstration in central London on Saturday, marching through the British capital to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza following the Hamas attack on Israel two weeks ago.

Chanting “Free Palestine”, holding banners and waving Palestinian flags, the protesters moved through London before massing at Downing Street, the official residence and office of British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“As a Palestinian who’d like to return home one day, as a Palestinian who has brothers and sisters in Gaza, and family, I wish we can do more but protest is what we can do at the minute,” one woman, who declined to give her name, told Reuters.

Many of the chants and banners contained strong anti-Israeli slogans, and one protester held a banner with pictures of Sunak, U.S. President Joe Biden, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with the message “Wanted For War crimes”.

Police had cautioned before the march that anyone showing support for Hamas, banned as a terrorist organisation in Britain, would face arrest, and any incident of hate crime would not be tolerated.

The protest was mostly peaceful, and police said they had made 10 arrests.

Figures on Friday showed there had been a 1,353% increase in antisemitic offences this month compared to the same period last year, while Islamophobic offences were up 140%.

Diplomacy falters

Diplomacy to secure a ceasefire has been fruitless so far.

Arab leaders at a hastily convened Cairo summit on Saturday condemned the Israeli bombardment of Gaza as Europeans said civilians should be shielded, but with Israel and senior U.S. officials absent there was no agreement on containing the violence.

Amid mounting international concern the conflict could widen, Blinken on Saturday cautioned Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati in call that the Lebanese people would be affected if his country were drawn into the war, the State Department said.


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