‘Brink of war’: Hezbollah-Israel trade further strikes across border

Fears that the Israel-Gaza war could spark regional conflagration are growing amid a rise in violence across the Israel-Lebanon border.

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon, shows smoke billowing above the village of Adayseh during Israeli bombardment on January 4
Strikes across the Israel-Lebanon border are increasing [Jalaa Marey/AFP]

The Israeli army and Hezbollah, based in Lebanon, have again traded fire across the border, stoking fear that the war in Gaza could spark a regional conflagration.

The Iran-backed Hezbollah on Tuesday launched a drone attack on an Israeli command base. Israel retaliated with air strikes, while it is also reported to have killed three Hezbollah members in a targeted strike.

Hezbollah said that it had targeted the “enemy’s northern command centre in the city of Safed with several drones” in retaliation for the killing of Hezbollah field commander Wissam al-Tawil in Lebanon on Monday, as well as an attack on Hamas’s deputy leader Saleh al-Arouri on January 2 in Beirut’s southern suburbs of Dahiyeh, a Hezbollah stronghold.

Al-Tawil was the deputy head of a unit in the elite Radwan force and is the highest Hezbollah fighter to be killed in the fighting since the war on Gaza began on October 7.

Hezbollah, a close ally of Palestinian group Hamas, said Al-Tawil was involved in the abduction of Israeli soldiers which triggered the group’s last war with Israel in 2006 as well as high-calibre operations in Syria. He had also “directed numerous operations” against Israeli forces since the Gaza war began, the group said.

Al-Tawil was buried in his south Lebanon village of Khirbit Silm on Tuesday. According to Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency (NNA) and eye witnesses, Israel struck a car parked in the village shortly before the procession began.

It was unclear who the target of the strike was and whether there were casualties. The NNA said preliminary reports suggested injuries.

Hezbollah number two Naim Qassem warned that Israel’s wave of targeted killings “cannot lead to a phase of retreat but rather to a push forward for the resistance”.

The Israeli air force said it had intercepted a number of the Hezbollah drones before they reached their target. Videos show that at least one made it through. Planes then attacked the location from which the drones were launched.

The Israeli army confirmed that a “hostile aircraft” had come down at one of its bases in the north and said that “no injuries or damage were reported”.

Al Jazeera’s Laura Khan, reporting from Israel’s northern border town of Shlomi, said sirens had sounded for several hours across the 120km (75 miles) border between Lebanon and Israel.

“We heard drones fly overhead for more than an hour. We also heard some jets screaming,” she added.

Shlomi is now a “ghost town” Khan reports, with thousands of people having evacuated amid the fighting.

“The Israelis have been talking about pushing Hezbollah back from the border and bringing tens of thousands of residents who evacuated this area back. It’s a complete ghost town. This is really pushing both sides to the brink of war,” she said.

Drone strike kills three Hezbollah members

Earlier on Tuesday, three members of Hezbollah were killed in a targeted strike on a vehicle in the town of Ghandouriyeh in southern Lebanon, sources familiar with the group’s operations told Reuters news agency.

The vehicle was hit by an “apparent Israeli drone strike” reports Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr from the Lebanese border town Tyre. The identity of those killed was not clear at the time of writing.

“Ghandouriyeh is outside the battleground, which is the 120km (75 miles) border between Lebanon and Israel, 4 to 5km [2.5 to 3 miles] on each side. This strike is 10km [6.2 miles] deep inside Lebanon, not far from where Hezbollah commander al-Tawil was killed,” she said.

“Israel seems to have a new strategy targeting members and commanders of different groups that make up what Iran calls the ‘Axis of Resistance’.”

Hezbollah has lost more than 130 fighters in Israeli shelling on southern Lebanon, and the killings of al-Arouri and al-Tawil have hiked concern that the war in Gaza could spill over into Lebanon and elsewhere across the region.

Amid Israel’s bombardment of the enclave, violence is flaring in the West Bank, in Iraq and Syria, and in the Red Sea.

The rise in violence in Lebanon comes as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is visiting countries in the Middle East to try to calm what he has called a “moment of profound tension” in the region.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies