BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri urged the US and France to intervene on Sunday as Hezbollah militias and Israeli security forces exchanged fire along the Lebanese border.
Hezbollah hit an Israeli battalion headquarters and a military ambulance with anti-tank missiles, after several days of threats to retaliate for Israeli drone strikes last Sunday in south Beirut.
The Shiite militia said it had hit a Wolf armored vehicle on the road to the Avivim barracks in northern Israel, and killed or injured four crew. Israel said it suffered no casualties.
Israeli artillery units responded with a barrage of about 100 shells targeting the Hezbollah squad that fired the missiles from the outskirts of the town of Maroun Al-Ras, across the border from Avivim.
As the exchange of fire continued, Hariri called US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French presidential adviser Emmanuel Bonne and urged “the intervention of the US, France and the international community in the face of the evolving situation on the southern Lebanese border.”
When the Hezbollah fire began, Israel told its citizens living within 4km of the Lebanese border to remain at home and prepare shelters. There was panic among civilians in the southern suburbs of Beirut, who said they were expecting Hezbollah’s response but feared a repeat of the 2006 war.
The UN force on the border, UNIFIL, said it was “in direct contact with the parties concerned to prevent the escalation of the security situation in the south,” and its mission chief Maj. Gen. Stefano del Col urged them to “exercise maximum restraint.”
Lebanon would “pay the price for the attack,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We were attacked by anti-armor missiles, and we responded with 100 shells. We will determine the next move on the border with Lebanon according to the evolution of events.”
Netanyahu was “ holding security contacts and consultations over the phone with the Israeli army command to determine the situation,” his office said.
After the firing stopped Israeli military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the “strategic situation is still ongoing,” and tensions with Hezbollah remained.
Earlier, Israeli forces set an oak forest in southern Lebanon on fire after dropping incendiary bombs on it, in an apparent attempt to prevent infiltration into Israel.
“The Israeli occupation forces targeted the outlying areas of Maroun Al-Ras, Aitaroun and Yaroun with more than 40 cluster munitions and incendiary shells, which led to the outbreak of fires in the forests of the targeted towns,” the Lebanese army command said.
The US State Department said Hezbollah should refrain from hostile actions which threaten Lebanon’s security.
“This is another example of the destabilizing role of Iranian proxies in undermining peace and security in the region,” a spokesperson said.
Tensions have risen in the last week between Israel and its enemy Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite movement backed by Iran.
Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday his movement had decided to respond to an alleged Israeli drone attack on the group’s Beirut stronghold.
The pre-dawn August 25 attack involved two drones — one exploded and caused damage to a Hezbollah-run media center and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure.
The attack came hours after Israel launched strikes in Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack.
Hezbollah says two of its members were killed in that strike.
Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah sites in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011.
A 2006 conflict between Hezbollah and Israel killed 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and more than 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.