A MISSILE fired by the Lebanese Hezbollah group struck an Israeli military convoy yesterday in apparent retaliation for a deadly air strike attributed to Israel that killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria earlier this month.
Israel reported unspecified casualties, and its military said it responded with aerial and ground attacks on Hezbollah positions – including at least 50 artillery shells, according to Lebanese officials. A Spanish peacekeeper was killed in southern Lebanon in the border flare-up.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond “forcefully”.
Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed a number of Israeli vehicles that were carrying Israeli officers and soldiers and caused casualties among “enemy ranks”.
It said the attack was carried out by a group calling itself the “heroic martyrs of Quneitra”, suggesting it was in retaliation for an Israeli air strike on the Golan Heights on 18 January that killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general. Ever since, Israel has braced for a response to the strike, beefing up its air defences and increasing surveillance along its northern frontier.
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Israeli military said an anti-tank missile hit an Israeli military vehicle near Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms, a disputed tract of land where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet.
About an hour after the attack, mortars were fired at several Israeli military locations on Mount Dov and Mount Hermon, the Israeli military said. No injuries were reported in that attack. The military said it responded with fire towards Lebanese positions and evacuated Israeli visitors from a ski resort in the area.
The flare-up recalled the beginning of the month-long 2006 Israel-Lebanon war, which was sparked by a Hezbollah attack on an Israeli military vehicle along the border and the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers.
The Israeli military said there was no indication that any Israeli soldiers were captured in yesterday’s attack.
However, the latest salvos raised the possibility of renewed fighting along the Lebanese-Israel border, which has remained mostly quiet since the 2006 war. Since then, Israel has responded with air strikes and artillery fire following a number of rocket attacks and shootings, but the violence has remained contained.
Yesterday Israel launched air strikes in Syria targeting Syrian army artillery posts in response to two rockets that were fired from Syria the previous day into the Israeli-held Golan Heights. No casualties were reported in that exchange of fire.
Israeli hospital officials said they were treating up to seven people for light injuries in the attack.
Two Lebanese officials said the Israeli shelling targeted the border villages of Majidiyeh, Abbasiyeh and Kfar Chouba near the Shebaa Farms area.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy confirmed that a Spanish soldier had been killed. The defence ministry identified him as Corporal Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, 36.
Spanish defence minister Pedro Morenes cancelled an official trip to India because of the soldier’s death. Mr Netanyahu warned that Israel’s enemies would face a fate similar to Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip who fought a brutal 50-day war against Israel last summer.
“To anyone who is trying to challenge us on the northern border I suggest looking at what happened here in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was dealt its heaviest blow ever,” he said.