BEIRUT: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah was “playing with fire” after border clashes on Monday. The Lebanese Shiite group denied all involvement.
Netanyahu said that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government “bear responsibility” for the attempt by gunmen to infiltrate Israeli territory, which resulted in an exchange of gunfire but no reported casualties.
“Hezbollah is playing with fire and our response will be very strong,” the Israeli premier said.
His remarks came as the head of the UNIFIL mission, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Cole, urged both the Lebanese and Israeli sides to exercise maximum restraint after the Hezbollah attack on Monday, which reportedly targeted an Israeli military patrol.
Hezbollah’s operation was in response to the Israeli airstrike south of the Syrian capital, Damascus, on July 20, killing Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, a member of Hezbollah.
Jawad was the first Hezbollah fighter to die in Syria since the group’s secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah warned in August 2019 that “the death of any Hezbollah fighter in Syria will cause a response from Lebanon.”
Lebanese reporters stationed along the southern border for days in an anticipation of a response from Hezbollah said that “a Kornet missile attack targeted an Israeli vehicle, while gunfire targeted an Israeli car in the Ruwaysat Al-Alam region in the Shebaa Farms.”
A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Avichay Adraee, said: “The Israeli army thwarted a sabotage operation planned and carried out by a Hezbollah cell of 3 to 4 members who advanced a few meters into a sovereign Israeli area. No casualties were recorded among Israeli soldiers, while the health condition of the infiltrators remains unknown.”
Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz had said on Sunday that “Israel does not seek escalation but will firmly respond to any attack targeting it.”
The Israeli artillery responded by shelling Lebanese border areas with the Lebanese National News Agency (NNA) saying that “155 millimeter shells targeted the eastern heights of the town of Kafr Shuba and the Ruwaysat Al-Alam area for an hour, causing fires.”
Ruwaysat Al-Alam has a Lebanese Army base and a UNIFIL base.
Extensive overflights were carried out by Israeli fighters, reconnaissance aircrafts and helicopters at a low altitude in the region.
“An artillery shell fell on the house of citizen Fawzi Abu Alwan in the town of Habariyeh as a result of the Israeli shelling of Lebanese villages in Al-Arqoub area,” the NNA reported.
Israeli reconnaissance aircrafts were continuously present in the Lebanese airspace throughout the weekend, while an Israeli drone was shot down inside the Lebanese territory.
Netanyahu said that he was following up on what is happening on the northern borders, stressing that “the army is ready to deal with all scenarios.”
“Our policy is clear. We will not allow Iran to have a military foothold along our borders with Syria” Netanyahu said on social media. “We set this policy years ago and we are committed to it. Lebanon and Syria bear the responsibility for any attack launched from their territories against us.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab spoke to President Michel Aoun, Speaker Nabih Berri and Lebanese army commander Joseph Aoun to follow up on the latest developments.
Lebanese Foreign Minister, Nassif Hitti, told Sky News that “Lebanon has the right to defend itself against any Israeli aggression on its territory,” noting that “Israel’s history in the region is an aggressive one.”
Hezbollah denied any involvement in the fighting: “Everything the enemy’s media has claimed about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanon into occupied Palestine and the death and injury of Hezbollah members in the shelling that targeted the area surrounding sites controlled by the occupying army in the Shebaa Farms area is completely false. It is an attempt to create imaginary and fake victories,” it said.
“The Islamic Resistance did not clash or shoot during today’s events. It was rather a one-sided incident carried out by the fearful, anxious and tense enemy.
“Our response to the killing of Ali Kamel Mohsen, who died in an attack in the vicinity of Damascus International Airport is coming. Zionists can only wait to receive the punishment for their crimes. The shelling of Habariyeh today, which hit a civilian home, will not be tolerated.”