Israel Steps Up Cross-Border Strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon

(Bloomberg) -- The Israeli military said it struck about 40 sites linked to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon, an apparent escalation of the near daily skirmishes between the two sides since the start of the war in Gaza.

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The Israel Defense Forces said its rockets hit storage facilities, weaponry and “additional targets used by Hezbollah” in the area of Ayta ash Shab, a village near the Israel-Lebanon border. The barrage came a day after the Iran-backed militant group staged the deepest attack inside Israel since their exchanges began in October.

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There was no immediate response from Hezbollah or reports of any casualties. The shekel reversed its gains, trading 0.4% weaker as of 5 p.m. in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

The US and European allies have long been concerned that tension between Israel and Hezbollah could evolve into a full-on front in the broader Middle East conflict, which has seen Israel clash with both Iran and its various proxy militias around the region.

Hezbollah, which like Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state, is the most powerful of those Islamist groups, which also include the Houthis in Yemen.

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Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the army has already killed half of Hezbollah commanders in southern Lebanon and its goal is to restore border security and allow tens of thousands of evacuated residents to return home.

“We are dealing with a few alternatives to make this a reality, and the coming period will be decisive,” he said in a video statement.

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Iran and Israel engaged in direct attacks this month, raising fears about an all-out war. The Islamic Republic launched a barrage of some 300 drones and missiles on Israel in response to a strike in Syria that killed several Iranian officers on April 1. Israel responded on Friday with a more limited attack, allowing both sides to pause hostilities for now.

Israel is also readying its military to start a major ground invasion of Rafah, the southern Gazan city where more than 1 million Palestinian civilians have taken refuge from the ongoing war with Hamas. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government believes the remaining Hamas fighters and some leaders are holed up there.

Hezbollah is thought to have more than 100,000 fighters, many of which are situated close to the border with Israel. The group has a far bigger and more sophisticated arsenal of missiles and other weapons than Hamas, which Israel is trying to destroy in retaliation for the Oct. 7 deadly attacks on the south of the country.

Hezbollah and Hamas are considered terrorist organizations by the US.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese militia fired explosive-laden drones at two army bases on Israel’s northern coast after Israeli strikes killed two of its key operatives. It was the farthest it has struck inside Israeli territory since the start of the Gaza war, with Israel intercepting what it described as three “suspicious aerial targets” and sirens sounding in several coastal cities including Acre.

Earlier on Wednesday, Hezbollah hit two houses with missiles fired toward Avivim, an Israeli settlement near the Lebanese border.

--With assistance from Shaji Mathew, Galit Altstein and Marissa Newman.

(Updates with context on Iran-Israel strikes from fifth paragraph)

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