Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets

Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets
Smoke rises in northern Israel, at the country's border with Lebanon, in Israel, October 31, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 31 October 2023
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Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets

Hezbollah steps up attacks on Israeli military targets
  • Israel responded by launching strikes on Lebanese villages and towns, reportedly using phosphorus shells that are banned in civilian areas under international law
  • An expert analyst in Beirut said: ‘Hezbollah perceives the ongoing battles as a crucial fight for survival’ and is aware ‘it will inevitably face similar circumstances following Hamas’ downfall’

BEIRUT: Hezbollah on Tuesday intensified its military operations against Israeli forces by targeting army positions across the southern border of Lebanon. It came as Israel stepped up its ground assault on the Gaza Strip.

Israeli forces responded to the Hezbollah activity by launching air and artillery strikes on Lebanese villages and towns, reportedly using phosphorus shells. The use of such weapons in civilian areas is prohibited under international law.

Abbas Hajj Hassan, Lebanon’s agriculture minister, said: “The Israeli army deliberately burned more than 40,000 old olive trees with internationally banned white phosphorus bombs.”

Hezbollah said it had targeted “an Israeli force positioned on Al-Khazzan Hill in the vicinity of the Israeli Orontes site. The attack involved the use of guided missiles, resulting in accurate hits on the Israeli force, and all of its members were killed or wounded.”

The group also claimed to have hit “the Israeli Al-Marj site in Wadi Hunin, opposite the Lebanese town of Markaba, with guided missiles,” and attacked “the Israeli site in Bayad Blida.”

Israeli forces targeted border towns and villages south of the Litani River, and the area around a Lebanese army base in Ras Naqoura, with shells and raids.

In addition, incendiary phosphorus shells reportedly were fired at the forests around the village of Alma Al-Shaab, and the Wadi Al-Aleq area between the towns of Marwahin and Al-Bustan.

In a message posted on social media site X, the Israeli army said: “Fighter aircraft attacked Hezbollah’s infrastructure on Lebanese territory. Among the infrastructure that was attacked, weapons, sites and places used by the organization were destroyed.”

Peacekeepers from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon activated their sirens several times on Monday night as a result of bombing in the south of the country.

According to Amnesty International, the current deployment of phosphorous weapons by Israeli forces is not the only time they have used them recently.

The rights group said: “The Israeli army fired artillery shells containing white phosphorus during military operations along Lebanon’s southern border between Oct. 10 and 16.”

Aya Majzoub, the organization’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa, said: “The Israeli army’s use of white phosphorus in a way that does not distinguish between civilians and military personnel is a horrific act that violates international humanitarian law.

“The illegal use of white phosphorus in the town of Dhahira in Lebanon on Oct. 16 put the lives of civilians in extreme danger, as many of them were taken to hospitals. Village residents were forced to flee, and their homes and cars were burned.”

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is scheduled to deliver a speech on Friday. In the meantime there is a clear sense of unease among the Lebanese people, with noticeably less activity at markets and on the roads, particularly in the south of the country and in Beirut and its southern suburbs, compared with the more normal daily bustle in the mountainous regions.

There are also signs that some people are making plans to move to the north of the country, should the fighting in the south get worse.

A real estate agent told Arab News: “All the apartments in the town of Faqra (in Mount Lebanon, northeast of Beirut), for example, and furnished apartments there are fully booked and clients have paid advance rents in anticipation of any possible Israeli escalation.”

Lebanon’s Druze leader Walid Jumblatt said he has sent a message to Nasrallah in which he expressed the hope that “the country would not slide into war,” and added that Nasrallah “is aware of the suffering, I believe, and what is required is restraint.”

Mohanad Hage Ali, deputy director for research at the Malcolm Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told Arab News: “Hezbollah perceives the ongoing battles as a crucial fight for survival. In the event of Hamas’ defeat there would be a notable shift in Israel’s security and military strategy, favoring preemptive strikes. Hezbollah is cognizant that it will inevitably face similar circumstances following Hamas’ downfall.

“Hezbollah is currently increasing the frequency of its strikes on Israeli military sites. Where it used to strike one or two sites, we now count 11 or 12 sites targeted by Hezbollah daily, and this will escalate as the attack on the Gaza Strip progresses.”

Ali said Hezbollah’s escalation will be limited to a specific geographical area and that Nasrallah’s speech on Friday is not expected to result in any deescalation.

In the meantime, he added, there are ongoing discussions in Israel about extending the battlefront at the northern border with Lebanon. Advocates of this approach argue that it is imperative to address the Hezbollah threat in the near future and that there are more feasible objectives that might be achieved on this northern front than in Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are working to effectively deter the northern front and I repeat to Hezbollah, you will make the mistake of your life if you decide to intervene comprehensively in the battle. You will receive a blow that you cannot even imagine.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said: “We continue to respond to every threat targeting us from the north, and whoever drags us into war will pay a heavy price.

“We are on the defensive on the Lebanon front and our forces are ready to respond to any aggression from the north. What is happening in Gaza is a message to Hezbollah.”

Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer warned that Israel “does not seek escalation in southern Lebanon but we must be prepared for that.”

Ali suggested that the best option for Hezbollah would be to adopt a more defensive strategy. He said that Nasrallah is likely, during his speech on Friday, to highlight the growing anger among Arabs about Israeli massacres of Palestinians. He predicted the speech would represent a significant moment for the wider Arab community, possibly encouraging many people to participate in demonstrations.

Hezbollah “still has many actions pending within its operational framework,” he said, adding that he fears the potential Israeli retaliation.


Iran launches direct drone strikes at Israel: Israeli army

Iran launches direct drone strikes at Israel: Israeli army
Updated 13 sec ago
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Iran launches direct drone strikes at Israel: Israeli army

Iran launches direct drone strikes at Israel: Israeli army

TEL AVIV: Iran launched on Saturday direct drone strikes at Israel, according to the Israeli army.

More to follow...


Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace

Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace
Updated 7 min 21 sec ago
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Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace

Jordan’s civil aviation authority ‘temporarily’ closes Jordanian airspace
  • Commission said Jordanian airspace would be closed to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights

AMMAN: The Jordanian Civil Aviation Regulatory Commission on Saturday announced that Jordanian airspace will be closed “temporarily” for inbound and outbound flights in light of rising regional risks. 

The commission said in a statement that the decision has been taken to ensure the safety and security of Jordanian aerospace in light of the rising escalation and after assessment of the potential regional risks. 

Stopping short from giving further details on the source of these risks, the commission said that Jordanian airspace would be closed to all incoming, departing, and transiting flights temporarily starting from 20:00 UTC, 11:00pm local time, for several hours. 

It added that this measure would be continuously updated and reviewed according to developments. 

The commission said that this measure is taken "to ensure the safety and security of civil aviation in the Jordanian airspace.”


Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators

Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators
Updated 42 min 16 sec ago
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Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators

Hamas says submitted response to Gaza truce mediators
  • Truce talks started on April 7 in Cairo but have so far brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators
  • Hamas said it was also ready “to conclude a serious and real prisoner exchange deal between the two parties“

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Hamas said Saturday it had submitted its response to Egyptian and Qatari mediators on a proposed truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip, insisting on a “permanent ceasefire.”
Truce talks started on April 7 in Cairo but have so far brought no breakthrough on a plan presented by US, Qatari and Egyptian mediators.
In a statement, the Palestinian militant group said it “reaffirms adherence to its demands” including “a permanent ceasefire, the withdrawal of the occupation army from the entire Gaza Strip, the return of the displaced to their areas and places of residence, intensification of the entry of relief and aid, and the start of reconstruction.”
Hamas said it was also ready “to conclude a serious and real prisoner exchange deal between the two parties.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has opposed a permanent ceasefire and vowed to send ground troops into Rafah, ignoring an international outcry against it, including from the United States.
Netanyahu’s office said Saturday “the only obstacle to obtaining the release of the abductees is Hamas and not any factor on the Israeli side.”
“Among other things, Hamas demands an end to the war and a complete withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip.
“The cabinet and the security forces are united in their opposition to these unfounded demands.”
“Hamas to this day has refused any deal and any compromise proposal,” it said.


Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages

Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages
Updated 13 April 2024
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Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages

Israelis rally against government amid deadlock on Gaza hostages
  • As concern mounts in Israel for the wellbeing of the 129 remaining hostages their families and friends have organized increasingly vocal demonstrations
  • They have dovetailed with activists who have long called for Netanyahu’s ouster given his trial on graft charges

TEL AVIV: Thousands of Israelis rallied against their government on Saturday, with some demanding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu call off the half-year-old war in Gaza amid a deadlock in diplomatic efforts to retrieve hostages held there by Hamas.
Hamas-led gunmen seized 253 people during an Oct. 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 others, according to officials. Some hostages were freed in a November truce but Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated efforts to secure another deal appear to have stalled.
As concern mounts in Israel for the wellbeing of the 129 remaining hostages, who cannot be contacted, their families and friends have organized increasingly vocal demonstrations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightist government.
They have dovetailed with activists who have long called for Netanyahu’s ouster given his trial on graft charges — which he denies — and his attempts to overhaul the judiciary last year.
“Our country’s near the abyss. We’ve already started to drive down and we must stop it. I’m here to gather the force to tell the people that they need to come out and they need to tell our government that it’s time to stop,” said Marva Erez, 45, who was among demonstrators in Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu said he will continue with the war to dismantle Hamas, despite alarm in Washington and other Western capitals at the civilian toll in Gaza, where medical officials say more than 33,000 Palestinians have been killed.
Hamas has said any new hostage deal must bring about an end to the Gaza war and withdrawal of all Israeli forces.
“There will be a (hostage) deal,” Culture Minister Miki Zohar, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told Channel 12 TV. “But not at any price.”
The anti-government protest in Tel Aviv was held separately to a smaller vigil for the hostages. Many of those taking part in the latter event soon merged with the bigger demonstration.
Michael Levy, whose brother Or is among the hostages, said he was protesting because “we have no time for the talks.”
“We need actions. We need to get them home,” he said.


Iraqi prime minister heads to Washington as regional tensions flare

Iraqi prime minister heads to Washington as regional tensions flare
Updated 13 April 2024
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Iraqi prime minister heads to Washington as regional tensions flare

Iraqi prime minister heads to Washington as regional tensions flare
  • “This official visit occurs at a delicate and sensitive time in the relations with the US, as well as in the context of regional conditions and the ongoing crimes against innocents in the Palestinian territories,” a statement from Al-Sudani’s office said

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s Prime Minister Mohamed Shia Al-Sudani left Baghdad on Saturday for the US, his office said, where he will meet with the US president as regional tensions flare.
US President Joe Biden is due to receive the Iraqi leader on Monday to “coordinate on common priorities” and discuss the “evolution of the military mission” of the US-led anti-terror coalition in Iraq and Syria, according to the White House.
The trip comes after Iran threatened to retaliate for deadly strikes, blamed on Israel, on its consulate in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Biden has said he expects Tehran to take action “sooner rather than later.”

BACKGROUND

President Joe Biden is due to receive the Iraqi leader on Monday to ‘coordinate on common priorities’ and discuss the ‘evolution of the military mission’ of the US-led anti-terror coalition in Iraq and Syria, according to the White House.

“This official visit occurs at a delicate and sensitive time in the relations with the United States, as well as in the context of regional conditions and the ongoing crimes against innocents in the Palestinian territories,” a statement from Al-Sudani’s office said.
The surging tensions come against the backdrop of the six-month war waged by Israel against Iran-backed Palestinian Hamas militants in Gaza.
The conflict has since drawn in regional actors, including Iran-backed groups in Yemen, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq.
Al-Sudani’s office added that the “meeting with President Biden will discuss the regional issues and the current escalations, focusing on the joint efforts to promote calm and prevent the conflict from widening, which could impact global stability.”
After the war in Gaza erupted, armed groups linked to Iran carried out a slew of attacks across the region on US soldiers deployed to the Middle East with the anti-Daesh coalition in support of Palestinians.
Washington has responded by striking several factions.
But calm has largely returned, and tensions have subsided between the US and Iraq, which have resumed talks on the future of the anti-Daesh coalition.
Iraqi authorities have voiced hope for drawing up a timeline to reduce the presence of US forces.
The talks aim to establish “a timeline to end the coalition’s mission and transition to bilateral relations with the coalition member states,” Al-Sudani’s office added on Saturday.
A State Department official, quoted on their website, said the US hopes the talks will also “focus on energy, water, business investment — US businesses investing in Iraq — and we want to talk about the private sector and the banking reforms that we have been working on.”