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Netanyahu says Hezbollah ‘playing with fire,’ but Shiite group denies role in border clash

Armoured vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers deployed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon on July 27, 2020.
Armoured vehicles and 155 mm self-propelled howitzers deployed in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel on the border with Lebanon on July 27, 2020. AFP - JALAA MAREY

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah carried out an infiltration attempt along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier on Monday, disputing the Iranian-backed Shiite group's denial of any involvement in the incident.

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In a televised address hours after the incident in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms region adjoining the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said: "We take a grave view of this attempt to infiltrate our territory. Hezbollah and Lebanon bear full responsibility for this incident and any attack from Lebanese territory against Israel. Hezbollah should know that it is playing with fire."

Netanyahu was sitting alongside Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who warned that any operation against Israel would draw a powerful Israeli response.

Hezbollah, however, denied it carried out a raid over Lebanon’s southern border, insisting, in a statement, that the incident was "from one side only, from the anxious enemy" and that the Israel claim was “absolutely not true".

Earlier Monday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said a group of three to five men armed with rifles crossed the Blue Line that divides the country in the disputed Mount Dov area, claimed by LebanonSyria and Israel as their own. 

Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said spotters had tracked the group as they approached the border.

"Once they crossed the border, we engaged," he said. 

"We confirmed visually that the terrorists fled back to Lebanon," he added.

There were no reported casualties among Israeli forces, Conricus said. 

Monday's clash followed Israeli media reports of a looming possible retaliation attack from Hezbollah after one of its fighters was killed in an air strike in Syria that was blamed on Israel.

A Lebanese TV station loyal to Hezbollah said Israel had been shelling targets across the border.  

An AFP correspondent reported Israeli artillery bombardment on the hills of Kfarchouba in the Shebaa Farms area near the Israeli position of Roueysaat al-Alam, and reported plumes of smoke rising above the area.

Israel's army had initially ordered civilians on its side of the Blue Line to stay indoors but later lifted those restrictions.   

Israel says it thwarted a cross-border Hezbollah attack, which Hezbollah denies
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'Maximum restraint'   

The UN considers the Mount Dov area where the clashes occurred as part of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL called for "maximum restraint", adding that the firing had stopped.

Israel has in recent days placed its northern border on high alert and sent troop reinforcements to the area. 

Lebanon-based Hezbollah has a substantial presence in Syria, where it is fighting in support of the Damascus government in the country's civil war. 

Israel hit Syrian army targets late Friday after munitions were fired across the Syrian border into Israel.

Hezbollah's No. 2, Naim Qasim, said on Sunday: "If the Israelis decided to launch a war, we will confront it and we will respond."

"What happened in Syria is an aggression that led to the death of Ali Kamil Mohsen," he said about the strike in Syria.

The evening missile attack on July 20 hit weapons depots and military positions belonging to Syrian regime forces and Iran-backed militia fighters south of Damascus, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)

 

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