Hezbollah, Israel exchange fire in major escalation

Published August 7, 2021
SELF-PROPELLED howitzers fire towards Lebanon on Friday from a position near the northern Israeli town of 
Kiryat Shmona after the Jewish state accused Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement of firing rockets on towns and 
villages.—AFP
SELF-PROPELLED howitzers fire towards Lebanon on Friday from a position near the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona after the Jewish state accused Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement of firing rockets on towns and villages.—AFP

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired a volley of rockets at Israeli positions on Friday, prompting retaliatory shelling, in an escalation between the Iran-backed movement and the Jewish state.

A flare-up along the border this week has seen Israel carry out its first air strikes on Lebanese territory in seven years and Hezbollah claim a direct rocket attack on Israeli territory for the first time since 2019.

The exchanges coincide with rising tensions between Iran and Israel since a deadly attack on an Israeli-managed tanker in the Gulf of Oman last week.

Following Friday morning’s exchange Israel said it did “not wish to escalate to a full war”, as the United Nations peacekeeping force in the border region, UNIFIL, warned of “a very dangerous situation” and called on parties to “cease fire and maintain calm”.

Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz urged the United States “to demand from the Lebanese government an end to rocket launches at Israel”.

Hezbollah said it fired dozens of rockets at open ground near Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms border district.

It said the attack came in response to Israeli air strikes on south Lebanon on Thursday that were the first since 2014. A correspondent in south Lebanon said he heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from around the Shebaa Farms.

Israel said 19 rockets were fired, six of which hit Israeli ground. Three fell short while the others were intercepted by air defences, it said.

A video released by the Israeli army showed vapour trails in the sky. The military said it was “striking the launch sources in Lebanon” but did not elaborate.

UNIFIL reported an “artillery response from Israel in the Shebaa Farms area”, following the Hezbollah rocket attack.

A correspondent in south Lebanon reported artillery fire by Israeli forces on the Shebaa Farms and outside the town of Kfarchouba.

The Shebaa Farms district is claimed by Lebanon but the UN regards it as part of the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981.

Israeli army spokesman, Amnon Shefler, played down the prospects of an all-out war with Hezbollah. “We do not wish to escalate to a full war, yet of course we are very prepared for that,” he said after Friday’s exchange.

Hezbollah’s deputy head, Naeem Qassem, said the group was committed to responding to any attack on Lebanon and would be “prepared” if needed. But “we do not believe things are headed towards an escalation,” he added.

There has been a series of unclaimed rocket attacks from Lebanon towards Israel since Wednesday, except for Friday’s salvo.

Before Thursday, Israel’s last air strikes on Lebanon dated back to 2014 when warplanes struck territory near the Syrian border.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2021

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