Five Hezbollah fighters killed as Lebanon-Israel border clashes escalate
PHOTO CAPTION: Israeli soldiers scan an area while sirens sound as rockets from Gaza are launched towards Israel, near Sderot, southern Israel, October 9, 2023. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) -Violence escalated on the Lebanese-Israeli border on Tuesday with five fighters from Lebanon's heavily armed Hezbollah group killed during operations against Israel, security sources in Lebanon said.
In the most serious flare-up at the frontier in 17 years, Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israeli forces have traded fire almost daily since Palestinian Islamist group Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with fierce air strikes on Gaza.
The Israeli army, which said it would shoot anyone coming near the border or meddling with its fence, said it killed four people on Tuesday who had tried to cross the barrier and plant an explosive device. It did not say where this took place.
Hezbollah confirmed that five of its fighters had been killed but it was not immediately clear if any of them were the same ones referred to by Israel.
Hezbollah, an ally of Hamas and Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad which both have operatives in Lebanon, said it carried out attacks including a guided-missile strike against an Israeli army vehicle in the Israeli border town of Metula.
The al-Manar television channel run by Hezbollah reported "fierce Israeli shelling" on Lebanese territory across the frontier from Metula.
Israel's army reported attacks in three locations including Metula. It said no Israeli army personnel had been injured.
Canada told its citizens in Lebanon on Tuesday to leave the country while commercial flights were still available.
Lebanese carrier Middle East Airlines (MEA) said it would keep five of its 24 planes in Turkey as a precaution in case of armed conflict.
Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, speaking in Beirut with visiting Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan, said Israeli attacks in southern Lebanon were "pouring oil on the fire".
He said they were "generating tension that could lead to the front igniting in a way that is hard to contain".
Israel has said it has no interest in waging a war with Hezbollah and if the group restrained itself then Israel would keep the situation along the border as it is. But the army has also said it is fully prepared and deployed at the border.
"Lebanon should be asking themselves if they want to risk their future for Hamas," Israeli Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht said. "There's still a certain threshold but if this escalates, Lebanon have to ask themselves that very, very hard question."
He said the situation along the border was tense, with large Israeli forces deployed and ready to react immediately.
"And again, our rules of engagement right now on the border are crystal clear. Anyone who will come near the fence or try to deal with the fence in the north will be stopped, they'll be shot," Hecht told a briefing.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem and Beirut bureau; editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)