Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Israeli army have made statements suggesting they wanted to avoid risking the further spread of war beyond Gaza after a drone strike killed a Palestinian Hamas deputy leader in Beirut.
In a speech in Beirut yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah vowed that his powerful Iran-backed Shia militia “cannot be silent” following the killing of Hamas deputy Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday.
He said his heavily armed forces would fight to the finish if Israel chose to extend the war to Lebanon, but he made no concrete threats to act against Israel in support of Hamas, Hezbollah’s ally also backed by Iran.
Israel neither confirmed nor denied assassinating Arouri but has promised to annihilate Hamas, which rules Gaza, following the group’s 7 October attack in which Israel says 1,200 people were killed and around 240 abducted.
Israel launched a ground and aerial blitz of Gaza in response, and the total recorded Palestinian death toll had reached 22,313 by yesterday – almost 1% of its 2.3 million population, the Gaza health ministry said.
Israeli military spokesperson, Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, when asked what Israel was doing to prepare for a potential Hezbollah response, told a reporter: “I won’t respond to what you just mentioned. We are focused on the fight against Hamas.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will depart today for the Middle East, including a stop in Israel, as the United States continues diplomatic consultations on the Israel-Gaza conflict.
Hezbollah has been embroiled in nearly daily exchanges of shelling with Israel across Lebanon’s southern border since the Gaza war began.
Arouri’s death removes a big name from Israel’s most-wanted list of top Islamist foes, and could drive Hamas’ exiled leaders deeper into hiding, hampering efforts to negotiate further Gaza ceasefires and hostage releases.
Israeli forces meanwhile kept up their aerial and ground blitz against Hamas militants, targeting the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis and Al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.
Fourteen Palestinians were killed, including nine children, in strikes on Al-Mawasi west of Khan Younis, a Gaza health ministry official said.
Israeli bombardments have flattened much of the densely populated enclave, wreaking a humanitarian disaster.
Most Gazans have been left homeless, crammed into shrinking areas in hope of rudimentary shelter, with food shortages threatening famine.
The Israeli military says it tries to avoid harm to civilians and blames Hamas for embedding fighters within residential areas, a charge the group denies.
The Israeli military said the number of its soldiers killed since its first ground incursion on 20 October had reached 177.
Hezbollah source says local chief among 4 killed in south Lebanon
Four Hezbollah fighters were killed overnight in southern Lebanon, the Iran-backed movement said, in what Lebanese state media said were Israeli strikes on the border town of Naqura.
Hezbollah said in a statement the four fighters had been killed “on the road to Jerusalem” – a phrase it has been using to announce deaths of its members due to Israeli fire.
The group did not elaborate, but a source close to Hezbollah told AFP that the four were killed in Naqura near the Israeli border, adding that one of them was the movement’s local leader.
Lebanon’s official National News Agency said Israeli aircraft “carried out raids on the centre of Naqura, which destroyed a home and damaged surrounding houses”.