[For updates, Times of Israel is liveblogging events in second link below]
The Israel Defense Forces said it thwarted a Hezbollah attack in the Mount Dov area on Monday afternoon, opening fire at a number of fighters from the terror group that entered Israeli territory.
No Israeli soldiers were injured, and the IDF denied Lebanese media reports that a Kornet anti-tank guided missile was fired at an Israeli tank on Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, an area that Israel, Lebanon and Syria each claim as its own.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said at least some members of the Hezbollah cell fled back to Lebanon, but added: “We don’t know their conditions for sure at this point.”
The Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news outlet reports that no Hezbollah fighters were killed during the failed attack.
Though a tense calm returned to both sides of the border following the incident and all security restrictions on Israeli civilians were quickly lifted, Zilberman said the military considered the event to be ongoing, with the possibility of additional attacks. The military maintained its own roadblocks in the area, preventing IDF vehicles from traveling on certain highways along the border that were considered vulnerable to attack from Lebanon.
The attempted Hezbollah assault was in retaliation for the death of one of its fighters in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week, a member of the group told the Reuters news outlet after the attack.
Zilberman said the military did not yet know if Hezbollah would consider this failed attack to be a sufficient form of revenge, but that the IDF would remain on high alert for the time being.
“Tense and complicated days are before us,” he said.
Zilberman said it was not yet clear how many fighters were in the Hezbollah cell, but said it appeared to be three or four.
According to Zilberman, the Hezbollah cell entered a few meters into Israeli territory before troops opened fire with machine guns, tanks and artillery cannons, driving them back into Lebanese territory.
Zilberman said the Hezbollah members were spotted shortly before they crossed the border and were tracked the entire time they were inside Israeli territory.
The spokesman said the IDF did not immediately know precisely what type of attack the Hezbollah cell intended to carry out in Israel, but that it was confident that the operatives were planning some type of assault.
“A cell sneaking into Israel in the middle of the day, they probably weren’t going to have a barbecue,” Zilberman told reporters.
Explosions and sounds of gunfire were heard throughout the region and smoke filled the air above Mount Dov during the incident, apparently the result of smoke shells fired by Israeli artillery. Zilberman said these were fired “to keep away any potential threats.”
The Times of Israel is liveblogging Monday’s developments as they unfold.
Netanyahu, Gantz to give press statement on events at 8 p.m.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gantz are set to hold a press conference at 8 p.m., on the day’s events in the north.
Hezbollah denies attack, clashes at Lebanon border, says response still coming
Hezbollah is now denying that it carried out any attack or exchanges of fire with Israeli forces earlier today along the border.
In a statement from the terror group read aloud on its al-Manar television network, Hezbollah says: “All that the enemy claims in the media about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanese territory into occupied Palestine, as well as talk of the fall of martyrs and wounded Hezbollah members in bombing operations that took place in the vicinity of the occupation sites in the Shebaa Farms — is absolutely false.”
It asserts that “these announcements are absolutely false attempts to generate illusory and fake victories.”
“The Islamic Resistance affirms that there has been no attack or shooting on its part. Rather, it was only one party, which was the fearful, anxious and tense enemy,” it says, adding that “the enemy is running scared both on the ground and in the media, scared of its own shadow.”
Appearing to indicate the matter is not over, Hezbollah says its response to the killing of one of its fighters in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria last week “is definitely coming. The Zionists have only to wait for their crimes to be punished.”
It also says it will respond to Israel’s artillery fire that took place during today’s clashes.
UN mission urges ‘maximum restraint’ after Lebanon-Israel border clashes
United Nations peacekeeping force UNIFIL calls for “maximum restraint” after clashes on the border between Lebanon and Israel.
“Major General [Stefano] Del Col has been in contact with both parties to assess the situation and decrease tension while urging maximum restraint,” UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti says.
“The firing has now stopped,” he adds.
Netanyahu, Gantz confer with security chiefs on northern incident
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz are currently holding security consultations at IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv with the heads of the Israeli security establishment.
Netanyahu has once again told ministers not to comment on today’s incident in northern Israel, warning that events are still in motion.
Israel & Hezbollah Exchange Fire Across Lebanese Border In Major Clash
Just this past weekend, on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put Syria and Lebanon on notice, saying that any and all attacks for provocations along the border would result in a military response.
Netanyahu further outlined that the governments would bear responsibility. The remarks made at his weekly cabinet meeting seemed particularly aimed at Hezbollah. He said this was part of Israel's “consistent policy to not allow Iran to entrench militarily on our northern border” — this in reference to Lebanese Hezbollah, which is widely seen as but an arm of the Ayatollah. And on Monday there are already reports of shots fired along the Israeli-Lebanese border, something that's been somewhat rare of late. The AP reports:
Israeli forces on Monday exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants along the volatile Israeli-Lebanese frontier, as Israeli civilians living in the area were ordered to remain indoors amid the heaviest fighting between the bitter enemies in nearly a year.The fighting occurred in an area known as Chebaa Farms, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and is claimed by Lebanon. Residents of southern Lebanon near the border reported Israeli shelling was continuing for more than an hour.
Via Reuters: Smoke rises from shells fired from Israel in Maroun Al-Ras village,
near the border with Israel, in southern Lebanon.
Beirut's Al Jazeera correspondent Timour Azhari has confirmed further that "Hezbollah fighters attacked a target in the occupied Shebaa farms area" in south Lebanon.
"Israel has responded by firing shells into Lebanese territory and has ordered those living near Lebanese border to stay home," he reports further.
Though in the past there's been some level of "acceptable" tit-for-tat sporadic exchanges of fire along the contested border region, it appears in this instance Tel Aviv is treating it very seriously, perhaps given the ongoing "red line" threats and war posture regarding Iran.
In this case PM Netanyahu called the Lebanon-Israel border clash a "serious security incident."
All of this of course presents the possibility and even likelihood for major escalation in southern Lebanon, also given Israel's increased bombing activity over Syria of late, which has literally become a weekly occurrence. Netanyahu has said it will hold Beirut and Damascus responsible for any offensive action by militants along the border.
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