MANARA (Israel) • Israel said yesterday that it had launched air strikes against Hizbollah observation posts in Lebanon after shots were fired from across the border towards its troops the previous evening.
The border flare-up came hours after Lebanon rejected an Israeli call to reform the United Nations peacekeeping force that patrols the border ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.
The Israeli military had said earlier that a “security incident” was unfolding near Manara, a kibbutz near the UN-demarcated border between the two countries, and urged residents to take shelter.
“During operational activity in northern Israel last night, shots were fired from Lebanon towards (Israeli) troops,” the military said on Twitter. “We responded with fire, and our aircraft struck Hizbollah observation posts near the border. This is a severe event and we remain ready to combat any threat to our borders.”
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported Israeli gunfire and flares in the Mays al-Jabal area across the border from Manara.
The Israeli military said “troops deployed dozens of illumination rounds and smoke shells and responded with fire”. Afterwards, “attack helicopters and aircraft struck observation posts belonging to the Hizbollah terror organisation in the border area”.
It reported no Israeli casualties.
Manara was quiet yesterday morning, an Agence France-Presse journalist reported. The military told residents they could come into the open and resume work in the fields.
Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war, and the UN force, Unifil, is tasked with monitoring their ceasefire.
Lebanon had hours earlier rejected an Israeli call to reform Unifil ahead of a UN Security Council vote to renew its mandate.
The incident also comes after Hizbollah announced at the weekend it had brought down an Israeli drone flying over the border.
READY TO FIGHT
We responded with fire, and our aircraft struck Hizbollah observation posts near the border. This is a severe event and we remain ready to combat any threat to our borders.
THE ISRAELI MILITARY, in a post on Twitter, regarding the “security incident” as it unfolded near Manara, a kibbutz near the UN-demarcated border between Israel and Lebanon.
The Iran-backed Shi’ite militant group vowed in September last year to down Israeli drones flying over Lebanon, following an incident a month earlier when two drones packed with explosives targeted its stronghold in south Beirut.
Set up in 1978, Unifil was beefed up after a month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hizbollah.
The 10,500-strong force, in coordination with the Lebanese army, is tasked with monitoring the ceasefire and Israel’s pullout from a demilitarised zone on the border.
Israel accuses the force, whose latest mandate expires at the end of this month, of not being active enough against Hizbollah.
But Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Charbel Wehbe informed the five veto-wielding permanent members of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday that his government wanted the force to stay on “without modifying its mandate or its numbers”.
Separately, Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip early yesterday in response to Palestinians in the enclave launching incendiary balloons towards Israel, the military said.
There were no reports of casualties in the strikes that Israel’s military said targeted underground infrastructure belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza.
Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease restrictions on Gaza and allow more investment – in part by letting Palestinians launch helium balloons carrying incendiary material that have torched tracts of southern Israeli farmland in recent weeks.
Israel has struck Hamas facilities almost nightly for the past two weeks, saying it would not tolerate the balloons. Anticipating Israeli attacks after balloon or rocket launches, Hamas routinely evacuates personnel from its sites.
Mediators from the UN, Egypt and Qatar have been working to restore calm.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES