BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah announced the deaths of five more militants as clashes along the Lebanon-Israel border intensified and the Israeli prime minister warned Lebanon on Sunday not to let itself get dragged into a new war.
The tiny Mediterranean country is home to Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim political party with an armed wing of the same name. Israeli soldiers and militants have traded fire across the border since Israel’s war with the Palestinian group Hamas began, but the launches so far have targeted limited areas.
Hezbollah has reported the deaths of 24 of its militants since Hamas’ bloody Oct. 7 rampage in southern Israel. At least six militants from Hamas and another militant group, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and at least four civilians have died in the near-daily hostilities.
Hezbollah has vowed to escalate if Israel begins a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip, which is likely, and Israel said it would aggressively retaliate.
“If Hezbollah decides to enter the war, it will miss the Second Lebanon War. It will make the mistake of its life,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday as he visited troops stationed near the border with Lebanon. “We will cripple it with a force it cannot even imagine, and the consequences for it and the Lebanese state are devastating.”
Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006 that ended in a tense stalemate.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that small arms fire was heard along the tense border coming from near the Lebanese village of Aitaroun toward the northern Israeli town of Avivim where key military barracks are located. Meanwhile, Israel shelled areas near the southeastern Lebanese town of Blida.
Israel sees Iran-backed Hezbollah as its most serious threat, estimating it has some 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.
Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus accused the group early Sunday of “escalating the situation steadily.” He said the recent cross-border skirmishes had produced both Israeli troop and civilian casualties but did not provide additional details.
Hezbollah on Sunday posted a video of what it said was a Friday attack targeting the Biranit barracks near the Lebanon-Israel border, the command center of the Israeli military’s northern division. Footage shared by the group showed an overhead view of a strike on what it described as a gathering of soldiers.
During a video briefing, Conricus said the group has especially attacked military positions in Mount Dov in recent days, a disputed territory known as Shebaa Farms in Lebanon, where the borders of Lebanon, Syria, and Israel meet.
“Bottom line is … Hezbollah is playing a very, very dangerous game,” he said. “(It is) extremely important for everybody in Lebanon to ask themselves the question of the price. Is the Lebanese state really willing to jeopardize what is left of Lebanese prosperity and Lebanese sovereignty for the sake of terrorists in Gaza?”
The international community and Lebanese authorities have been scrambling to ensure the cash-strapped country does not find itself in a new war.
Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has yet to comment on the latest Hamas-Israel war, though other officials have. Hezbollah legislator Hassan Fadlallah said Sunday said Nasrallah’s silence was part of a strategy to deter Israel from Lebanon and to “prevent the enemy from reaching its goal in Gaza.”
“When the time comes for his His Eminence (Hassan Nasrallah) to appear in the media, should managing this battle require so, everyone will see that he will reflect public opinion,” Fadlallah said.