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Israel expands evacuations as Lebanon border clashes escalate

file photo: israeli soldiers gather on and around a tank near israel's border with the gaza strip, in southern israel
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers gather on and around a tank near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel October 15, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

Israel expanded planned evacuations of communities on its northern front with Lebanon on Sunday as cross-border clashes with fighters from Lebanese group Hezbollah have intensified since the war in Gaza erupted more than two weeks ago.

After enacting a plan last week to move residents out of 28 border-area villages, and the nearby town of Kiryat Shmona, with state-funded temporary accommodation, the Defence Ministry said it was adding 14 communities to the evacuation list.

Hezbollah and Israel have been trading fire at the frontier with increasing frequency since Palestinian group Hamas launched a deadly attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with intense air strikes on Gaza.

It is the worst escalation in violence along the Israeli-Lebanese border since the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Iran-backed Hezbollah’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has yet to speak publicly about the escalation, but Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah said on Sunday the group’s leader was closely monitoring developments and directing commanders in battle.

The Israeli military said on Sunday it struck several Hezbollah targets in Lebanon overnight, including what it described as a compound from which a missile had been fired at one of its drones. It did not provide a location for the sites.

In later incidents, Israeli forces struck three groups of fighters who launched or were preparing to launch anti-armour missiles across the border, the military said, adding that it also shot down a drone approaching from within Lebanon.

Hezbollah-run TV channel Al-Manar reported Israeli bombardments around Aalma Shaab and surrounding areas, which lie in the west of the borderlands, and also around Aitaroun further east.

The area around the Lebanese town of Hula, opposite Israel’s Kiryat Shmona, also faced Israeli bombardments, Al-Manar reported. The Hula district has been a particular focus for strikes and counter-strikes in recent days.

As of Saturday, Hezbollah said 19 of its fighters had been killed in the border flare-up since Oct. 7.

Sources have previously said Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel were designed to keep Israel’s army occupied without provoking a major war. Israel has said it has no interest in waging war and that if Hezbollah is restrained it will maintain the status quo.

But rising tensions have raised concerns in the region and beyond about the risk of a wider conflict, as Israel makes preparations for an expected land incursion into Gaza.

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