Lebanese armed group Hezbollah has said it targeted a vital Israeli military post with a barrage of 62 rockets as a “preliminary response” to the killing of a Hamas leader in Beirut this week.
This comes as the European Union foreign policy chief met the Lebanese prime minister in Beirut on Saturday, and warned against Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict in a spillover from Israel’s war on Gaza.
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“As part of the initial response to the crime of assassinating the great leader Sheikh Saleh al-Arouri … the Islamic resistance [Hezbollah] targeted the Meron air control base with 62 various types of missiles,” the Iran-aligned group said in a statement on Saturday of the attacks in northern Israel.
The Israeli military said earlier that about 40 rockets were fired towards the Meron air surveillance base and it responded by attacking a “terrorist cell” that took part in the launches. There were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
Later on Saturday, Lebanon’s Jama’a Islamiya group said in a statement that it had fired two volleys of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel.
Hezbollah and the Israeli army continued to exchange fire along the border area, with one Israeli attack going deep into Lebanese territory and hitting a house nearly 40km (25 miles) from the border, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Lebanon said.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday said all of Lebanon would be exposed if it did not react to the killing of Hamas deputy chief al-Arouri and warned it would “certainly not go without reaction and punishment”.
Al-Arouri was assassinated in an alleged Israeli attack on Tuesday in a Hezbollah stronghold. Nasrallah has warned Israel against expanding the conflict, saying there would be “no ceilings” and “no rules” to his group’s fighting if Israel chose to launch a war on Lebanon.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Saturday that it was “imperative” to avoid a regional escalation in the Middle East.
“It is absolutely necessary to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict,” he said, also warning Israel that “nobody will win from a regional conflict”.
“We are seeing a worrying intensification of exchange of fire across the Blue Line,” he added, referring to the current demarcation line between the two countries, a frontier mapped by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that any large-scale bombing in southern Lebanon would lead to a “comprehensive explosion” in the region.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Beirut, said Hezbollah’s attack on Saturday was an expected outcome following Nasrallah’s statements on al-Arouri’s killing.
“The Israelis would have been expecting a response. They would have been on high alert,” he reported.
Khan said that amid the continuing cross-border fighting, Hezbollah had a “very political calculation” to make in Lebanon.
“It doesn’t want Lebanon to suffer as a result of an outright war. But it is talking tough. It says if Israel wants to escalate, then it will respond in kind,” he added.
Israel and Hezbollah have been exchanging near-daily fire since the war in Gaza started in October last year. The violence has largely been contained to the border area.
“Israel is putting immense pressure on Hezbollah positions in the south with air strikes and drones,” Al Jazeera’s correspondent reported.
“That’s interesting because the more pressure it puts on Hezbollah, there may be a misfire or a miscalculated strike from either side and that could escalate things.”
With no end in sight to Israel’s war on Gaza and amid soaring regional tensions, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is on his fourth visit to the Middle East in three months.