|Date: Sep 3, 2019|
|Source: The Daily Star|
|‘New phase’ on southern border: Nasrallah|
|Emily Lewis & Mohammed Zaatari| The Daily Star|
BEIRUT/MAROUN AL-RAS: The attack on an Israeli military vehicle over the weekend is the start of a “new phase” on the Israel-Lebanon border, Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah said Monday. “We no longer have red lines,” Nasrallah said during a televised speech Monday evening, the day after a Hezbollah unit launched missiles at an Israeli armored personnel carrier near the Avivim military base.
Israel responded by firing at least 40 incendiary and cluster devices toward Lebanese territory, according to the Lebanese Army.
The Hezbollah leader said that the message sent by the attack was to warn Israelis that if they attack Lebanon, all of their “border, troops and settlements” would be “at risk” from a Hezbollah retaliation that Nasrallah said could come at any time.
By attacking across the border inside pre-1948 Palestinian territory, rather than the occupied Shebaa Farms, Hezbollah had broken the “biggest red line” for Israel, he said.
The greatest aspect of Sunday’s attack was the mere fact that it was achieved “despite Israeli threats,” the Hezbollah leader said.
Hezbollah claimed that the attack killed and wounded the Israeli soldiers inside the military vehicle, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied this, saying there were no casualties.
Israeli media reported that the state’s military had staged an evacuation of two supposedly injured soldiers to de-escalate the situation.
Monday evening, Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV channel broadcast a video showing the two missiles appear to hit the Israeli armored vehicle from a distance of 4 kilometers.
Crucially, however, the video did not show the aftermath of the attack or the extent of the damage the missiles inflicted on the vehicle.
Tensions between the two sides had peaked in the week leading up to the Hezbollah attack, after an Israeli drone attack on Beirut’s southern suburbs that damaged the party’s media offices and an air raid that killed two Hezbollah fighters in Syria.
Nasrallah said that Hezbollah would not hesitate to attack Israeli drones if they entered Lebanese air space again.
Speaking following an economic meeting at Baabda Palace Monday, Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that Israel’s actions had “crossed a red line.”
However, he added that he had done his duties as premier to prevent an escalation of the situation.
Sunday, the premier contacted U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and French President Emmanuel Macron’s top adviser to request their intervention to calm the situation along the border.
By Monday, a sense of calm had returned to the southern border, with residents of Maroun al-Ras, one of the sites targeted by Israeli fire Sunday evening, gathering in the town’s Iranian Garden to celebrate what they viewed as a Hezbollah victory.
“The time of defeat is over; Israel is beaten,” a man who gave his name as Youssef told The Daily Star as he gazed down at the site of the attack through a small telescope. turn to page 8from page 1Zahra Abboud, an 8-year-old girl who had come with her family from the Marjayoun village of Houla, said she was there to donate to the “resistance.”
“I gave LL5,000 ($3.33) to buy a missile for Hezbollah,” she said as she played with her siblings in the public garden.
The Bint Jbeil Union of Municipalities finished extinguishing fires around Maroun al-Ras caused by the Israeli devices late Sunday night after a four-hour firefight. However, they could not save many agricultural fields from being badly scorched.
Abbas Fares, who returned to his wheat fields and olive groves to assess the damage, called on the Lebanese authorities to “send us experts to inspect our land ... to see if it can still be used for farming and check whether it’s a threat to health.”
Along the Blue Line, the de facto Israel-Lebanon border, units from the Lebanese Army and the United Nations peacekeeping force continued to patrol throughout Monday. A group of Irish UNIFIL soldiers, equipped with metal detectors and electronic sensors, was dispatched to search for foreign objects or unexploded ordnance in the area.
The leader of the U.N. peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col had condemned the “serious” violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 Sunday, adding that he had contacted both parties “in order to contain the situation and restore the cessation of hostilities.”
A U.S. State Department official expressed concern over “escalating tensions” between the two sides, but stressed that “the United States fully supports Israel’s right to self-defense.”
British Ambassador to Lebanon Chris Rampling urged both sides to “show restraint” during a Monday meeting with Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, who instead insisted that “Israel alone” was responsible for Sunday’s firefight.
Hezbollah’s allies Syria and Iran commended the attack, with a Syrian Foreign Ministry source telling state media site SANA that it had come as a direct response to “repeated Israeli assaults on Lebanese sovereignty.”