Lebanon-Israel frontier flare-up kills five fighters

Iran says retaliation to embassy bombing will be 'at the right time and with maximum damage'

An Israeli air strike on the outskirts of Aita Al Shaab, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon. AP
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest on Israel-Gaza

Israel escalated its bombardment of south Lebanon overnight on Friday, killing at least five militant fighters, following a speech by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah in which he described the Iranian embassy strike in Damascus as a "turning point".

Three of the fighters killed belonged to the Amal Movement, a Hezbollah-allied political party that officially joined the conflict in February. The other two were members of Hezbollah.

The hours before and after Mr Nasrallah’s Quds Day speech – highly anticipated following Israel’s strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus on April 1 – were tense. The strike sparked fears of a broader escalation, with Israel temporarily closing at least 28 embassies following the threat of retaliation.

In his speech, the Hezbollah leader said that Iran would retaliate against Israel, describing its attack on the embassy compound as a "turning point".

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has vowed to retaliate and "punish" Israel over the strike that killed at least 14 people, including seven Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders and operatives, among them the head of the Quds Force in Lebanon and Syria, Mohammad Reza Zahedi.

It was the most significant attack against an Iranian target since the Gaza war began on October 7 and risks pulling Iran into a direct confrontation with Israel.

On Saturday, Iran’s armed forces chief Maj Gen Mohammad Bagheri said that the strike was “a kind of madness” and reiterated that Tehran “will punish the enemy with the help of our brave men, and we will surely take revenge.”

“This will be done at the right time and with maximum damage,” he was quoted by state-owned media as saying in Isfahan during a public funeral for the Iranians killed in Damascus.

Meanwhile, the Iranian embassy said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that consular services resumed on Saturday, days after the Israeli strike levelled the residence of the Iranian ambassador, which was also used as the consulate.

In Lebanon, the three Amal fighters – Moussa Al Moussawi, Mohammad Wehbi, and Mohammad Shait – were killed in Israeli strikes on a “military compound of the Amal Movement” in the Marjaayoun district, the Israeli army claimed. Residents of the area said the building struck was an office belonging to the party.

It was the first time the Israeli army specifically named the Amal Movement.

The statement did not specify why the Amal compound had been attacked, but said that “throughout the war, the Amal Movement operated against the state of Israel and planned to carry out an additional attack on Israeli territory in recent days.”

A statement by the Amal Movement said the three fighters were killed “while carrying out their national and jihadist duty in defence of Lebanon and the South".

Hezbollah announced the death of two of its fighters in similar circumstances.

The Iran-allied group has engaged in daily fighting with Israel, in support of its ally Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Hezbollah has consistently made a ceasefire in Gaza a condition of a ceasefire in Lebanon.

Cross-border fighting intensified overnight Saturday, following Mr Nasrallah’s speech and the death of the fighters in Hezbollah and the Amal movement.

Israeli bombardment on south Lebanon was particularly intense overnight in Marjaayoun, where several villages suffered “harsh” Israeli artillery and white phosphorus attacks, according to the state news agency. It also reported Israeli reconnaissance planes flying over villages throughout the night “all the way to the outskirts of the city of Tyre.”

In Lebanon, cross-border exchanges have killed at least 347 people, mostly Hezbollah fighters, but also at least 68 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Updated: April 07, 2024, 2:52 AM