Two killed in Lebanon in less than 24 hours as Israeli airstrikes on Baalbek intensify

The attacks on the city are a message that Israel is widening the conflict, says the mayor

People walk past a building hit in an Israeli air strike in Baalbek, Lebanon on Monday night. AFP
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Renewed Israeli air strikes have killed a second Lebanese civilian and wounded more than eight people in north-eastern Lebanon's Baalbek-Hermel province on Tuesday, after Hezbollah fired a barrage of more than 100 rockets at several Israeli military posts in response to overnight strikes.

The series of Israeli raids on the district have dragged it into cross-border hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah since Monday evening – despite the area's physical distance from the frontier, where the majority of fighting has taken place.

At least one person was killed and many injured on Monday evening after several Israeli raids on Baalbek-Hermel, the second raid on the area since the start of the conflict between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah in October 8.

Baalbek-Hermel governor Bashir Khodr identified the person killed Monday evening as Mustafa Gharib, a football player and photographer from the town of Duris. The identity of the person killed on Tuesday is not yet known.

Both victims were civilians, according to the Baalbek city mayor Fuad Balouk.

The proximity of the attacks to the city of Baalbek is “a message of Israel widening the conflict in an effort to pressure Hezbollah, and citizens, and the resistance in general," he told The National.

Although launched deep inside Lebanon, the strikes were still within the established but unspoken rules of engagement between Israel and Hezbollah, he said.

"The problem is those boundaries keep expanding,” he added.

The Baalbek area was initially bombarded two weeks ago for the first time. It was the deepest Israeli attack on Lebanon since the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war.

The Israeli army said its air raids, in the area of Baalbek, "struck two Hezbollah military command centres" in response to the Lebanese group's rocket barrage.

"Hezbollah used these sites to store significant assets used to strengthen its weapons arsenal," an Israeli army statement said.

Hezbollah said its rocket attack on military sites in Israel's upper Galilee region were conducted "in response to the Israeli attacks on our people, villages and cities – most recently in the vicinity of the city of Baalbek, [which resulted in] the martyrdom of a citizen."

Shortly after Hezbollah announced its rocket barrage, Israel bombed a main road leading into the town of Baalbek, a Hezbollah official confirmed following reports of the raid.

The attack on the province, deep inside Lebanon and far from the Israeli border, is “an insistence on the part of the enemy to expand its aggression against Lebanon”, MP Melhem Hujeiri, who is from Baalbek-Hermel, said in a statement.

Baalbek is considered a seat of power for Hezbollah.

Earlier on Monday, Hezbollah had launched a cross-border drone attack on an Israeli air defence outpost in the Golan Heights, an attack the group said was carried out with “accuracy”.

Hezbollah and the Israeli military have engaged in a mid-intensity cross-border conflict since October 8, when the Lebanese group declared support for its ally Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Fighting between Israel and armed groups led by Hezbollah has been largely contained to the Israel-Lebanon border area, although Israel has increased strikes deeper into Lebanon in recent weeks in an attempt to warn off the Iran-backed group.

Tens of thousands of residents on both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border have been displaced by the fighting.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said his group is seeking to deter Israel from its assault on Gaza and will not agree to a ceasefire until one is achieved in Gaza.

Israel, meanwhile, has escalated its threats of war in Lebanon should diplomacy fail.

Updated: March 12, 2024, 1:28 PM