Casualties on Israel-Lebanon border as army trades fire with Hezbollah

Israeli soldiers stand near a Merkava tank as they man a position at an undisclosed location on the border with Lebanon on October 21, 2023. PHOTO/AFP

Casualties were reported along the Israel-Lebanon border Saturday as the army traded fire with the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah amid fears of a new front opening as Israel battles Hamas.

In south Lebanon, Hezbollah said four of its fighters were killed. Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad said one of its fighters was also killed.

In northern Israel, a strike in the Margaliot area of the border wounded two Thai farm workers, Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service said.

One was wounded in the chest and the other sustained a limb injury, the service said of the workers, who are among the 30,000 Thai labourers in Israel.

Israel’s army said Hezbollah anti-tank fire towards the village of Baram had wounded three of its soldiers, one of them seriously.

The army said it hit a Hezbollah position Saturday evening that had been targeting the border town of Shlomi with anti-tank missiles.

Israel already ordered the evacuation of Kiryat Shmona, a border town which is home to some 25,000 people, as the area has come under fire from Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions.

Hezbollah said it targeted several Israeli positions along the border on Saturday including in the contested Shebaa Farms area.

A senior Hezbollah official warned that the movement stood ready to step up its involvement as Israel masses troops on the Gaza border vowing to destroy Palestinian militant group Hamas in response to its shock cross-border attacks on October 7.

“Let’s be clear, as events unfold, if something comes up that calls for greater intervention by us, we will do so,” said Hezbollah number two Naim Qassem.

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Saturday’s exchanges came as Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant visited the northern border, where he called on troops to remain “vigilant”.

“Hezbollah has decided to participate in the fighting, and is paying a price for it. We must be vigilant and prepare for every possible (scenario). Great challenges await us,” Gallant said.

  • ‘Growing concern’ –
    In the evening, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported Israel air strikes along the western section of the border, including near Alma al-Shaab, Yarin and Dhayra.

It also reported a “heavy bombardment on the outskirts of Yarun” near Bint Jbeil.

Since October 7, exchanges of fire across the border have killed at least four people in Israel — three soldiers and one civilian.

In southern Lebanon, at least 27 people have been killed, according to an AFP tally. Most have been combatants but at least four civilians, including a Reuters journalist, have also been killed.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken noted “growing concern over rising tensions” on the border in a telephone call with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati on Friday, a statement said.

Blinken “underscored continued US support” for Lebanon’s security forces, spokesperson Matthew Miller said in the Saturday statement.

Shiite military group Hezbollah is the only Lebanese faction to have kept its weapons after the 1975-1990 civil war, and now has an arsenal more powerful than the army’s.

Hezbollah fought a devastating war with Israel in 2006 that left more than 1,200 dead in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and 160 dead in Israel, mostly soldiers.

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