Calm returns to Lebanon but tensions remain high - GulfToday

Calm returns to Lebanon but tensions remain high


UN peacekeepers use mine detectors as they patrol near the fields in Lebanese-Israeli border village of Maroun Al Ras on Monday. Associated Press

An escalation between Israel and Hizbollah has ended after a brief exchange of fire, but tensions remained high along the Lebanese border Monday after the enemies traded accusations.

Residents returned to life as normal on both sides of the border, though burnt fields could be seen and the Israeli military had established new checkpoints.

Schools were open in the Israeli village of Avivim, from which the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras is clearly visible on a nearby hill.

“The war can start in a minute. I am worried it could happen,” said Dudu Peretz, 35, as he dropped his son off at kindergarten.

In southern Lebanon, farmers returned to their fields and the United Nations force charged with monitoring the border area resumed its patrols, an AFP journalist said.

“We’re used to this kind of thing,” said Ali al-Safari, a resident of Bint Jbeil on the Lebanese side of the border.

“We remain determined and calm.”

Sunday’s incident, which caused no casualties, followed a week of rising tensions that included what Hizbollah described as an Israeli drone attack on its Beirut stronghold on Aug.25.

Israel has not acknowledged that attack but subsequently accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement of working with Tehran to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil.

Hizbollah had warned of retaliation, and on Sunday it fired up to three anti-tank missiles from Lebanon at an Israeli battalion headquarters near Avivim and at a vehicle Israel said was a military ambulance.

Israel retaliated with around 100 artillery shells targeting the squad that fired the missiles.

Hizbollah issued a statement soon afterwards saying it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside.

Israel’s military later refuted the claim, saying nobody was wounded.

Hizbollah’s Al Manar TV on Monday aired footage it said showed an missile attack by the Iran-backed Lebanese group against an Israeli military vehicle the day before.

The video purported to show a missile being launched towards a moving armoured vehicle before an explosion sent large clouds of white smoke into the sky.

“The first Kornet anti-tank missile is launched at the target and then, from another position, a second missile is fired to ensure the target is destroyed,” a voiceover said.

The target, which Hizbollah identified as a Wolf armoured vehicle, was 1.5 kilometres from the Lebanese-Israeli frontier and four kilometres from the launch site of the first missile, Al-Manar said.

But Israeli media have reported that the military staged an evacuation of two supposedly injured soldiers, who were not in fact wounded, in order to deescalate the situation.

Some Israeli newspapers ran photos showing the soldiers with allegedly fake injuries being evacuated.

They said the thinking was that Hizbollah could feel it achieved revenge with casualties but would also expect a blistering Israeli response, meaning it would stop its assault.

Israel’s military declined to comment.

It appeared neither side wanted a prolonged escalation.

After the exchange of fire began, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene.

The UN called for restraint and France said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert further fire.

The United States voiced concern, slamming the “destabilising role” of Iranian allies in the Middle East and saying it “fully supports Israel’s right to self defence”.

Israel had been on alert for a Hizbollah response.

The organisation’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday his movement had decided to respond to the alleged Israeli drone attack.

The pre-dawn Aug.25 attack involved two drones − one exploded and caused damage to a Hizbollah-run media centre and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure.

The incident came hours after Israel launched strikes in Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on its territory.

Hizbollah says the strikes killed two of its members.


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