Hezbollah rejects 'ridiculous' Israeli claim to have killed half its commanders in south

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant made claim as he announced 'offensive action' in southern Lebanon in retaliation for recent attack on Acre

Hezbollah fighters raise the group's flags during the funeral of two of its members who were killed in an Israeli strike on April 17. AFP
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Hezbollah, which is engaged in daily cross-border exchanges of fire along the Lebanon-Israel frontier, has denied Israel's claim to have eliminated half of the militant group's commanders in southern Lebanon.

The group rejected the “ridiculous words that aim to uplift the morale of the Israeli soldiers who received painful blows in the Arab Al Aramshe and north of Acre”, a Hezbollah source told The National on Wednesday, referring to the latest attacks by the Iran-backed group.

Hezbollah has recently escalated attacks against its arch enemy Israel, amid heightened tensions in the Middle East after Iran's unprecedented assault on Israeli soil.

Last week, a Hezbollah attack on Arab Al Aramshe, a Bedouin border village in northern Israel, injured at least 13 Israeli soldiers, the highest number of casualties in a single attack in the conflict, and killed one other.

On Tuesday, the group conducted drone attacks on two Israeli military bases north of the city of Acre. This was Hezbollah's deepest attack into Israel since hostilities broke out on October 8.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday said Israeli forces were carrying out “offensive action” across southern Lebanon, in what seems to be retaliation for the Acre attack.

“Half of the Hezbollah commanders in south Lebanon have been eliminated … and half of them are in hiding and abandon south Lebanon to Israeli military operations,” Mr Gallant added, speaking at the Northern Command in Safed.

The Hezbollah source said: “Our martyrs are known and we are mourning them publicly in front of our people. We do not hide their names, as the enemy does to hide its real losses before public opinion and before the world. Therefore, this statement is completely worthless."

A strike on Tuesday killed Hussein Ali Azkoul, who Israeli forces said was an operative in Hezbollah's aerial defence unit in southern Lebanon, and previously claimed to have killed commanders from the group's elite Radwan Force, including Ali Ahmad Hussein this month and Wissam Tawil in January.

In a separate statement on Wednesday, the Israeli army said it had struck 40 Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.

It said it had carried out a wave of strikes on Hezbollah targets around Ayta Ash Shab as “part of the effort to destroy the organisation’s infrastructure in the border area”.

Since October 7, at least 380 people have been killed in Lebanon, mostly Hezbollah members, but also 72 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

Israel, which does not systematically disclose figures, says 11 soldiers and eight civilians have been killed on its side of the border.

Hezbollah and Israel's exchange of fire have been largely confined to the border area – although Israel has on occasion launched strikes deeper inside Lebanon, sparking concerns of an all-out war between the two sides.

Updated: April 25, 2024, 6:16 AM