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Intensive Israeli drone activity in Lebanon extends as far north as Baalbek for first time

Smoke billows following an Israeli bombardment of the southern Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab, Dec. 18, 2023. (AFP)
Smoke billows following an Israeli bombardment of the southern Lebanese village of Aita Al-Shaab, Dec. 18, 2023. (AFP)
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20 Dec 2023 12:12:55 GMT9
20 Dec 2023 12:12:55 GMT9
  • Meanwhile aggressive operations and exchanges of fire between Israel and Hezbollah continue along border on southern Lebanese front
  • It follows a warning from French foreign minister that hostilities could escalate into full-scale war from which Lebanon ‘would never recover’

Najia Houssari

BEIRUT: Intensive activity by Israeli drones was evident in the skies over the city of Baalbek and surrounding villages in northern Lebanon on Tuesday.

It was the first time Israeli drones had been spotted in the city, which is in the Bekaa Valley, east of the Litani River, about 67 kilometers northeast of Beirut.

It came a day after French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, speaking during a visit to Lebanon, warned that the hostilities in southern Lebanon could escalate into full-scale war.

The Israeli army has been using drones in its operations in southern Lebanon to launch guided missiles at targets. Israeli military spy planes have violated the airspace of the region as far north as the city of Hermel in the past two months, even crossing the border into Syrian territory. The Baalbek-Hermel region is a stronghold of Hezbollah, which has military sites located there.

Israeli army radio reports said that “warning sirens sounded in several settlements in the Upper Galilee (area near the border with Lebanon) in the afternoon due to suspicion of drone infiltrations. The air defenses were activated after a suspicious object was detected above Bar’am.”

According to Israeli media, “a rocket was launched from Lebanon toward a target in Malkiya in Upper Galilee and ambulance teams rushed to the scene.”

Hostile Israeli operations continued in southern Lebanon on Tuesday. Hezbollah’s media department said “an Israeli Merkava tank fired direct shells toward the town of Yaroun, and remnants of an interceptive missile fell near the vocational school in the town of Bint Jbeil.”

The operations specifically targeted villages in the western and central sectors, extending to the outskirts of the coastal city of Tyre and beyond the Litani River.

The Israeli bombing targeted the outskirts of Al-Khiyam town with incendiary phosphorus shells, as well as the outskirts of the towns of Blida and Hula. The Israeli army also targeted the vicinity of Aita Al-Shaab and Naqoura with early-morning gunfire.

In addition, Israeli forces used drones to bomb the southern and eastern outskirts of Maroun Al-Ras and Mays Al-Jabal, as well as the outskirts of Naqoura, Jabal Al-Labbouneh, the Ain Alma area, the area between the towns of Naqoura and Alma Al-Shaab, and olive groves between Dermamas and Kafr Kila. A shell reportedly landed near houses in the town of Rmeish.

Hezbollah said it had targeted the “Israeli military outpost of Metula, causing confirmed casualties.”

On Monday afternoon, an Israeli drone attack targeted a spot very close to the village of Aita Al-Shaab, where residents and Hezbollah supporters were attending the funeral of one of the group’s fighters. Hezbollah said it responded by bombing Israeli Iron Dome air-defense platforms in the vicinity of Kabri, east of the city of Nahariya, and also struck the city of Kiryat Shmona.

Colonna, the French foreign minister, concluded her visit to Lebanon on Monday by warning against “expanding the area of tensions and violating Resolution 1701.” UN Security Council Resolution 1701 was adopted in 2006 with the intention of resolving the war that took place that year between Israel and Hezbollah.

“If Lebanon plunged into war, it would never recover,” Colonna said, adding that “the situation is very dangerous.”

During a meeting with Colonna at the French embassy in Beirut, Maj. Gen. Aroldo Lazaro, commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, said “the level of tension on both sides of the Blue Line is very dangerous.”

He added that “Hezbollah is using more long-range weapons and Israel is violating the Lebanese airspace,” but noted that “in the past three days, the exchange of fire has decreased.”

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