Israel and Hezbollah clash near Lebanese frontier

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JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah carried out an operation against the Israeli military on Monday near the Lebanese-Israeli frontier, days after a member of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group was killed in an alleged Israeli attack in Syria, Lebanese sources said.

One of the sources said the operation was in response to the attack, but there was no immediate statement from Hezbollah.

An Israeli military spokesman said Israeli troops had “thwarted an infiltration attempt by a Hezbollah terror squad” across a boundary with Israeli-occupied territory, and that there were no Israeli casualties.

“Shortly after they crossed the Blue Line, we engaged,” the spokesman said.

He said the squad, numbering between three and five militants, had crossed back into Lebanon. Lebanese sources said there were no Hezbollah casualties.

One Lebanese source said Hezbollah had fired a guided missile at an Israeli tank. However, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters that he was unaware of any such incident.

The incident occurred in the Shebaa Farms area, which is occupied by Israel and claimed by Lebanon. The United Nations regards the territory as part of Syrian land captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.

A Reuters witness in Lebanon counted dozens of Israeli shells hitting the area, landing near an Israeli military position. Fires burned and smoke rose from the area.

About an hour after initial Israeli reports of a security incident in the area, the military said it had lifted an order for Israelis living along the northern border to stay indoors.

“Lebanon and Hezbollah will bear the responsibility for any attack from Lebanese territory,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks, shortly before the reports of the incident.

A Lebanese source familiar with Monday’s operation said Hezbollah’s attack was in retaliation for the death of a Hezbollah fighter killed in an apparent Israeli strike on the edge of Damascus last Monday.

Following the killing of two Hezbollah members in Damascus last August, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed to respond if Israel killed any more of its fighters in Syria, although the group’s deputy leader on Sunday said an all-out war with Israel was unlikely.

Hezbollah has deployed fighters in Syria as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that spiralled out of protests against his rule in 2011.

Israel sees the presence of Hezbollah and its ally Iran in Syria as a strategic threat and has mounted hundreds of raids on Iranian-linked targets there.