Border clashes: Latest developments


Hezbollah and Israel exchanged fire Wednesday a day after a U.N. official called for an end to the "dangerous cycle of violence", as tensions increased on the border.

An Israeli airstrike targeted the house of Hezbollah commander Ali Wehbe in Bint Jbeil, while Israeli warplanes bombed Beit Leef, Ramyeh, Ainata and al-Khraybeh.

The Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, meanwhile claimed responsibility for 40 rockets fired from Lebanon at Kiryat Shmona and Beit Hillel.

Israeli airstrikes had targeted overnight Mount al-Kabir between Siddiqin and Yater, following strikes on Kherbet Selem and on the outskirts of Taybeh and Deir Seryan.

- 'New phase' -

Israeli strikes far beyond the usual border regions, attacks on Israeli military bases, the targeting of Hezbollah commanders, the increased civilian death toll and the downing of an Israeli Hermes-450 drone have increased the tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border.

U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka, called for "an immediate halt to this dangerous cycle of violence" while U.S. State Department's spokesman Mathew Miller said his country did "not want to see either side escalate the conflict" and that Israel had assured the United States it wanted to follow "a diplomatic path".

Hezbollah central council member Sheikh Nabil Qaouq said that Monday marked a "new phase in the confrontation" with Israel.

Qaouk's remarks came during the funeral on Tuesday of Hezbollah fighter Hassan Hussein Salami, who was killed Monday in a targeted drone strike in Majadel in southern Lebanon. The Israeli army said Salami was a field commander in the Hujair Valley region and was responsible for carrying out rocket attacks on northern Israel. At least two Hezbollah members were killed on the same day in strikes on Baalbek, the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago. The Israeli army said the strikes were in retaliation for Hezbollah's firing of a surface-to-air missile at the Israeli drone.

- 'On tiptoe' -

Despite the bellicose rhetoric on both sides, neither seems to want a war that could set the whole region ablaze. Military analyst Hisham Jaber told AFP that the risk of wide-scale conflict can't be ruled out, but is still unlikely. However, it would only take a mistake on either side for the situation to degenerate.

Israeli military analyst Amir Bohbot said that "the security reality is far from the situation of an uncontrollable escalation" and that the two sides "are walking on tiptoe."

Cross-border exchanges since October have killed at least 284 people on the Lebanese side, most of them Hezbollah fighters but also including 44 civilians.

On the Israeli side, 10 soldiers and six civilians have been killed, according to the Israeli army.

- Gaza truce -

As Israel and Hamas inch toward a new deal, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said there would be no let-up in Israeli action against Hezbollah even if a Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal were secured.

However, the Nidaa al-Watan newspaper reported Tuesday that Gallant’s threats "do not enjoy his government’s approval" and that Gaza's truce will definitely apply to the South.

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