Israel claims thwarting Hezbollah attack; group denies charge

Updated 28 Jul 2020

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BEIRUT: A picture taken from the Israeli side of the “blue line”, which separates Israel and Lebanon, shows smoke billowing above the Shebaa village in southern Lebanon. — AFP
BEIRUT: A picture taken from the Israeli side of the “blue line”, which separates Israel and Lebanon, shows smoke billowing above the Shebaa village in southern Lebanon. — AFP

JERUSALEM: An Israeli official and Lebanese sources said Hezbollah carried out an operation along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier on Monday but the Iranian-backed group denied it had done so.

An Israeli military spokesman said Israeli troops “thwarted an infiltration attempt by a Hezbollah terror squad” across a boundary with Israeli-occupied territory, days after a Hezbollah member was killed in an alleged Israeli attack in Syria.

“Shortly after they crossed the Blue Line, we engaged,” the spokesman said, adding the squad, numbering between three and five militants, had crossed back into Lebanon.

He said there were no Israeli casualties. Lebanese sources said there were no Hezbollah casualties.

Hezbollah denied its forces had tried to infiltrate the frontier and said in a statement Monday’s incident was “one-sided”.

“There were no clashes or opening of fire from our side in today’s events,” it said. “Our response to the martyrdom of Ali Kamel (Mohsen)... will surely come.”

One of the Lebanese sources said Hezbollah had carried out an operation in retaliation for the death of the Hezbollah fighter killed in an apparent Israeli strike on the edge of Damascus last Monday.

Another Lebanese source said Hezbollah had fired a guided missile at an Israeli tank. Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters he was unaware of any such incident.

The incident occurred in the Shebaa Farms area, occupied by Israel and claimed by Lebanon.

The United Nations regards the territory as part of Syrian land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

A witness in Lebanon counted dozens of Israeli shells hitting the area, landing near an Israeli military position. Fires burned and smoke rose from the area.

About an hour after initial Israeli reports of a security incident in the area, the military said it had lifted an order for Israelis living along the northern border to stay indoors.

“Lebanon and Hezbollah will bear the responsibility for any attack from Lebanese territory,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks.

After the killing of two Hezbollah members in Damascus last August, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed to respond if Israel killed any more of its fighters in Syria, although the group’s deputy leader on Sunday said an all-out war with Israel was unlikely.

Hezbollah has deployed fighters in Syria as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that spiralled out of protests against his rule in 2011.

Israel sees the presence of Hezbollah and its ally Iran in Syria as a strategic threat and has mounted hundreds of raids on Iranian-linked targets there.

Published in Dawn, July 28th, 2020