Lebanon’s Hezbollah attacked 19 Israeli positions simultaneously along the border, prompting a retaliatory assault from Israel, a day before an anticipated speech by the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah.
The Iran-backed armed group said it targeted the military positions along the border simultaneously at 3:30pm (13:30 GMT) on Thursday with “guided missiles, artillery shelling” and other weapons.
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The Israeli military said it carried out a “broad assault” against the group, in which “warplanes and helicopters” attacked Hezbollah targets “in response to fire from Lebanese territory earlier today, together with attacks with artillery and tank fire”.
Another barrage of rockets wounded two people in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the Lebanese border, Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service said.
The Lebanese section of Hamas’s armed wing said it fired a dozen rockets at the town “in response to the occupation massacres against our people in Gaza”.
The Israel-Lebanon border has seen escalating tit-for-tat exchanges, mainly between the Israeli army and Hamas ally Hezbollah, since the war began, killing more than 9,000 Palestinians in Gaza since then, as well as more than 1,400 people in Israel – mostly in the Hamas attack on southern Israel on October 7.
Highly anticipated speech
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is set to speak Friday for the first time since the war broke out.
Many people in Lebanon are anxiously awaiting the speech, rattled for weeks by fear of a catastrophic conflict. Some have said they are not making plans beyond Friday, believing his remarks will signal the chances of escalation.
The speech will also be avidly watched outside of Lebanon, as Nasrallah is a leading voice in the informal alliance known as the “Axis of Resistance”, led by Iran to counter the influence of the United States and Israel.
The coalition includes Shia Muslim Iraqi militias, which have been firing at US forces in Syria and Iraq, and Yemen’s Houthis, who have waded into the conflict by firing drones at Israel.
The speech will be broadcast to coincide with rallies called by Hezbollah to honour fallen fighters.
No indication Hebzollah is ready to go in ‘full force’
French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said Lebanon “doesn’t need a war” with Israel, during a visit on Thursday to his country’s contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
Such a war “could have major escalatory effects on the whole region,” he said.
The White House says it is concerned about attacks on Israeli forces by Hezbollah, but national security spokesperson John Kirby told reporters at a briefing on Thursday he believed there was no “indication yet specifically that Hezbollah is ready to go in full force”.
Earlier on Thursday, Hezbollah said it had downed an Israeli drone with a surface-to-air missile, the second such claim in days.
Also on Thursday, Lebanon’s army retrieved the bodies of two shepherds killed by Israeli fire, official media said, raising to 66 the number killed in Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to a tally by the AFP news agency.
Most of those killed on the Lebanese side have been Hezbollah fighters but the number also includes seven civilians, one of them a journalist.
On the Israeli side, nine people have died – eight soldiers and one civilian, the army said.