Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza
Israel's war with Hamas is now a multi-front conflict, said Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on Friday, warning of an all-out confrontation that could further put US Middle East interests in the line of fire.
Mr Nasrallah's “break silence” speech came as Washington renewed its efforts to avoid a broader escalation as the war in Gaza rages, urging, in a shift of focus, the protection of Palestinian civilians.
The bloody conflict has turned this week into urban warfare amid an extensive air campaign hammering the besieged enclave and claiming the lives of more than 9,150 Palestinians, including 3,700 children.
While Mr Nasrallah was addressing his supporters for the first time since the Hamas attacks that killed 1,400 Israeli civilians and soldiers, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was speaking to the media in Tel Aviv.
“The battle (..) has become extended on more than one front and in more than one arena,” Mr Nasrallah told hundreds of Iran-backed Hezbollah supporters in the suburbs of Beirut.
“The Islamic resistance in Iraq has begun to bear its responsibility. Likewise, the brothers in Yemen also publicly announced entry into the battle,” he added.
“Salutations to all those who stood in solidarity and supported the cause, internationally, from Arab and Islamic countries and Latin American countries and the positions taken, especially the Iraqi and Yemeni support, which has entered the heart of this battle.”
His speech came after the heaviest night of cross-border fighting between Israeli forces and Hezbollah. Four people were killed as the Israeli military pummelled southern Lebanon after a volley of Hamas and Hezbollah rockets were fired from across the border.
So far, 57 Hezbollah fighters have been killed since the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7.
The two militant groups, alongside Iraqi factions, the Houthis in Yemen, and other armed groups in Syria, are allies of Iran, which has warned of a regional escalation if the Israeli offensive in Gaza continues.
Mr Nasrallah emphasised that the attack on Israel by Hamas was “100 per cent Palestinian” and that other Iran-backed militant groups in the “axis of resistance” were not informed.
A war of words
The cross-border clashes with Israel have left many Lebanese holding their breath amid a widespread perception that Hezbollah, the heavily armed militia and influential political party, holds the country's future in its hands.
“All possibilities on our Lebanese front are open, and all options are on the table, and we may use them at any time,” the leader of the militant group told his supporters.
“The development of the northern front is linked to the course and development of events in Gaza … and the behaviour of the Zionist enemy towards Lebanon,” he said, adding a warning to the US that their “interests, fleets and soldiers” would pay a hefty price if a regional battle begins.
“Remember your defeats in Lebanon, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” warned Mr Nasrallah.
Meanwhile, in Tel Aviv, Mr Blinken was on his third visit to Israel since October 7, as part of a regional tour aimed at avoiding a regional escalation and highlighting growing US concerns about the humanitarian fallout from the Israeli military campaign.
“We need to continue to prevent escalation of this conflict as it spreads to other areas and other fields,” he told a press conference after meeting Israeli officials.
“With regard to Lebanon, with regard to Hezbollah, with regard to Iran – we have been very clear from the outset that we are determined that there not be a second or third front opened in this conflict.”
In Washington, a White House National Security Council official told The National that the US “will not engage in a war of words” with Hezbollah's leadership.
“The United States does not want to see this conflict expand into Lebanon. The likely devastation for Lebanon and its people would be unimaginable and is avoidable,” the official insisted.
“What I will say, is that we and our partners have been clear: Hezbollah and other actors – state or non-state – should not try to take advantage of the ongoing conflict.”
“How it does so matters”
US President Joe Biden's administration has been facing mounting domestic and global pressure to try to moderate Israel's deadly response, including by supporting a ceasefire.
The administration plans to request that time windows be agreed on between Israel and Hamas for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the release of hostages.
Israel has said as many as 240 people are being held hostage by militant groups in Gaza.
Despite a soaring civilian death toll in the enclave, the US has refused to back calls for a ceasefire, something many countries are demanding.
In a shift of focus on Friday, Mr Blinken said, “We need to do more to protect the Palestinian civilians. We’ve been clear that, as Israel conducts its campaign to defeat Hamas, how it does so matters.”
“It matters because it is the right and lawful thing to do. It matters because a failure to do so plays into the hands of Hamas and other terror groups,” Mr Blinken added.
He said he believes that there could be a critical mechanism in protecting civilians while enabling Israel to achieve its objective of defeating Hamas.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to reject the proposal.
In an address after meeting Mr Blinken – but not alongside the US official – Mr Netanyahu insisted there would be no truce in Gaza until Hamas releases the hostages. “Israel refuses a temporary ceasefire that does not include the return of our hostages.”