Lebanese armed group Hezbollah fired a salvo of rockets onto northern Israel on Monday in response to at least three of its members being killed in Israeli shelling on Lebanon, two security sources told Reuters.
The exchange of fire marks a significant expansion of the conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants to the Israeli-Lebanese border further north. Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel fought a brutal month-long war in 2006.
Hezbollah in a statement on Monday said it had fired rockets and mortars on two Israeli military posts in the Galilee. The Israeli military said it identified a number of “launches” from Lebanon into Israel, without any injuries. It said it was responding with artillery fire onto Lebanon.
Hezbollah said in consecutive online statements that at least four of its members had been killed in Israel’s “aggression” on southern Lebanon on Monday afternoon.
Israel shelled southern Lebanon on Monday after a cross-border raid claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, which has been fighting alongside Hamas since it launched its surprise attack on Israel on Saturday.
The Israeli army said soldiers backed by helicopters killed at least two gunmen who crossed the frontier. A Hezbollah official said had earlier denied the group was involved in the cross-border raid.
Two sources, both close to Hezbollah, had said Israel’s deadly shelling of the Hezbollah observation post in southern Lebanon would draw a response from the group.
Hezbollah and Israel have traded sporadic fire over the border since 2006 while avoiding a major conflict. They exchanged artillery and rocket fire on Sunday.
Some residents of southern Lebanon said they were leaving homes along the border with Israel on Monday amid heavy shelling that had so far pounded the outskirts of towns and villages.
The state news agency reported heavy traffic on main roads due to people fleeing the border area and schools in the area will remain closed on Tuesday.
UN urges restraint
A series of incidents over the past months had already elevated the risk of escalation along the Lebanon-Israel border before the fighting erupted in Israel and Gaza.
In a statement, the Israeli military said its soldiers “killed a number of armed suspects that infiltrated into Israeli territory from Lebanese territory.” It did not elaborate on the number.
Military helicopters “are currently striking in the area,” the statement added.
A security source in Lebanon and a source in Lebanon’s border area said a group of men had approached the border, with one firing at an Israeli observation post.
Israel’s Army Radio gave the location as being near Adamit, across from the Lebanese border towns of Aalma El Chaeb and Zahajra.
A spokesperson for the UN’s peacekeeping mission said its head Major General Lazaro was “in contact with the involved parties, urging them to exercise maximum restraint.”
Lebanon’s army confirmed shelling had taken place in border areas and asked people to be cautious in their movements.
Gabi Hage, a father of three with a house near the border described heavy shelling close to him.
“Our house is really close to the border, so we’re leaving and going down to the village. All my neighbors are doing the same,” he said.
The French consulate in Lebanon told its nationals to postpone any travel to southern Lebanon. Britain also said tensions were high and that the situation could escalate.