Updated at 3:27 pm (GMT+2): Israel hit Lebanon with a number of rockets after an anti-tank missile was fired at an Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) convoy near the Lebanon border on Wednesday.
The Israeli army said on its Twitter feed that an “initial reports indicate a military vehicle was hit, apparently by an anti-tank missile in the area of Har Dov,” using Israel’s term for the Shebaa Farms which is also close to the ceasefire line with Syria.
IOF spokesman Peter Lerner confirmed on Twitter that there were “casualties” on the Israeli side, without expanding on whether soldiers were killed or wounded.
Lebanon’s Hezbollah resistance movement claimed the attack.
“At 11:25 (0925 GMT) this morning, the Quneitra martyrs of the Islamic Resistance (Hezbollah) targeted an Israeli military convoy in the Shebaa Farms composed of several vehicles which was transporting several Zionist soldiers and officers,” Hezbollah said in a statement broadcast on the group’s Al-Manar television channel
Al-Manar said nine Israeli vehicles were targeted in the attack. Al-Mayadeen news channel’s Director Ghassan Ben Jeddo, said at least 15 Israeli soldiers have been killed.
There were conflicting reports on whether an Israeli soldier was abducted during the attack. Al-Akhbar English could not independently confirm the information at this time.
The Shebaa Farms area is a mountainous, narrow sliver of land rich in water resources measuring 25 square kilometers (10 square miles). It has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.
An Israeli security source, meanwhile, said a number of people were wounded in the incident after their vehicles came under “very heavy fire at close range,” saying the incident was still ongoing.
He said it was not clear whether the vehicles had been hit by an anti-tank missile, a rocket or a mortar, but said Israeli forces had returned fire, hitting targets across the border.
Israeli newspaper the Jerusalem Post said the Israeli army fired at the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Shouba.
Two sources told AFP that more than a dozen shells had been fired on Lebanese border villages and that Israeli warplanes were flying over the area.
A spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which monitors the Lebanese-Israeli border, reported that one of its soldiers, a Spanish citizen, was killed after sustaining serious wounds by Israeli shelling in the border village of Abbasieh.
“At least 15 shells have been fired against five villages in the south,” one security source said, adding that the village of Majidiyeh was hardest hit.
Another security source said the Israeli army was firing a new shell into the area about every two minutes, and was also firing artillery.
The Lebanese army is deployed in all five villages that were shelled, but it was unclear whether Hezbollah had a presence there.
Al-Mayadeen said the Israeli strikes were ongoing.
Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that mortar shells had hit the village of Ghajar, which straddles the border between Lebanon and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Images broadcast from the scene showed large plumes of white smoke billowing across the area and police sealed off several roads close to the border in northern Israel.
UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti said the head of UNIFIL was in close contact with all parties and had urged “maximum restraint” to prevent an escalation.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was ready to act “with force” following the border attack.
Referring to the bloody Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip this summer, Netanyahu added: “I suggest that all those who are challenging us on our northern border, look at what happened in Gaza, not far from the city of Sderot.”
“Hamas suffered the most serious blow since it was founded this past summer and the [IOF] is prepared to act on every front.”
Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, speaking in Beijing, said Israel should respond in a “forceful and disproportionate manner.”
Meanwhile, former Lebanese President Michel Sleiman warned in a statement on Facebook against “actions” that would lead to a breach of UN Resolution 1701. Resolution 1701 marked the ceasefire that ended the 2006 July War between Israel and Hezbollah.
He also stressed that Lebanon has “no interest” in conflicts that would allow Israel and “terrorist groups” to take advantage of Lebanon’s “relatively stable political situation, which has been enhanced lately by internal dialogue.”
Retaliation for Israeli attacks in Syria
The attack came hours after Israeli aircraft struck alleged Syrian army artillery positions early on Wednesday, and one day after rockets were launched at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
On January 18, an Israeli airstrike on the Syrian city of Quneitra killed six fighters of Lebanon’s resistance movement Hezbollah, including a commander and the son of assassinated senior commander Imad Mughniyeh, as well as Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Mohammad Ali Allahdadi.
The Hezbollah brigade which carried out the attack, the Quneitra martyrs of the Islamic Resistance, was named in reference to the deadly strike in Quneitra, indicating that Wednesday’s attack was in retaliation for the killing of its members.
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah had previously warned Israel against any “stupid” moves in Lebanon and Syria, vowing to retaliate and make sure Israel pays the price for any aggression against the neighboring countries.
Israeli airstrikes on Syria “target the whole of the resistance axis,” Nasrallah said in reference to Syria, Iran and his government, who are sworn enemies of Israel.
“The repeated bombings that struck several targets in Syria are a major violation, and we consider that any strike against Syria is a strike against the whole of the resistance axis, not just against Syria,” he said, adding the “axis is capable of responding” anytime.
Since the airstrike, troops and civilians in northern Israeli-occupied territories of Palestine and the occupied Golan Heights have been on heightened alert and Israel has deployed an Iron Dome rocket interceptor unit near the Syrian border.
The last Israeli war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006 killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, most of them civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them soldiers.
Nasrallah is expected to deliver a speech on January 30 regarding the Israeli strikes.
(Al-Akhbar, AFP, Reuters)