Israel-Hezbollah hostilities fan fears of widening Gaza war

Beirut   -   Israel and Hezbollah traded fresh cross-border fire, as fears of a regional conflict grew after Israel revealed it had approved plans for a Lebanon offensive and the Iran-backed militants vowed to blanket their foe in rockets.

Hezbollah said it fired dozens of rockets into northern Israel Thursday in retaliation for a deadly air strike in south Lebanon that Israel said killed one of the group’s operatives. Hezbollah also claimed several other attacks on Israeli troops and positions over the course of the day.

The Israeli military said its jets had struck two weapons storage facilities and several other sites belonging to the group, and that it had fired artillery “to remove threats in multiple areas in southern Lebanon”.

Just before midnight, the army said it had “successfully intercepted a suspicious aerial target that crossed from Lebanon”.

And early Friday, Lebanese media reported fresh Israeli strikes in the country’s south. are divided on the prospect of a wider war, almost nine months into Israel’s campaign to eradicate Hezbollah’s ally Hamas, the Palestinian militant group in the Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah and Israeli forces have exchanged near-daily fire since Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel triggered the Gaza war, and the bellicose talk has escalated along with the strikes.

Israel’s main military backer the United States has sought to discourage any expansion of hostilities along the border. In a meeting with visiting Israeli officials in Washington, Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored “the importance of avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes”, according to a statement.

In a televised address on Wednesday, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah had warned “no place” in Israel would “be spared our rockets” if a wider war began.

He also threatened nearby Cyprus if it opened its airports or bases to Israel “to target Lebanon”.

European Union member Cyprus houses two British bases, including an airbase, but they are in sovereign British territory and not controlled by the Cypriot government.

On Thursday, Cyprus government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis dismissed as “totally groundless” any suggestion of possible involvement in a conflict related to Lebanon.

Warplanes from the British airbase in Cyprus have, along with US forces, attacked Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels who have for months been targeting Red Sea shipping.

On Thursday the US military said it had destroyed several Huthi drones, a day after its forces struck two rebel sites in Yemen.