Hezbollah conveys to Israel it does not want escalation
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Hezbollah conveys to Israel it does not want escalation

United Nations delivers message to Israeli leaders; officials on both sides of border announce return to routine

Illustrative: IDF military vehicles along the Israeli border with Lebanon, on January 28, 2015. (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)
Illustrative: IDF military vehicles along the Israeli border with Lebanon, on January 28, 2015. (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)

Hezbollah has conveyed to Israel through the UN force in southern Lebanon that it is not interested in escalating the tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border.

According to the message, conveyed to Israeli officials overnight Wednesday by Gen. Luciano Portolano, commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, Hezbollah’s attack earlier in the day on a convoy of IDF infantry commanders along the northern border was intended as an “eye for an eye” response to the strike in the Syrian Golan last week that killed top Hezbollah commanders and an Iranian general.

The Hezbollah attack killed two IDF soldiers and wounded seven. The strike last week is believed to have been carried out by Israel, though the government in Jerusalem has refused to acknowledge it conducted the strike.

“UNIFIL sent us a message that as far as [Hezbollah] is concerned the incident is over,” Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon confirmed Thursday morning in an interview with Israel Radio.

“I don’t know if the events are behind us,” Ya’alon warned, adding, “The IDF is ready, deployed for any development. Our long arm knows how to reach wherever is necessary. Anyone who tries to attack us is signing their own death warrant.”

Assessments by the IDF are more optimistic than Israel’s public rhetoric about the chances for calm. The Hezbollah attack was “a pinpoint, tactical response,” and did not signify an intention on the part of the Lebanese group to launch a full-fledged confrontation with Israel, IDF sources told Channel 10 Wednesday.

“I am notifying the residents of the north that they can go back to their daily routine,” IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz said Wednesday night.

Similar messages were delivered by Hezbollah Wednesday to residents of southern Lebanon, where schools had been closed in some areas in expectation of imminent war between Hezbollah and Israel.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah is slated to speak publicly about the rising tensions on Friday.

Despite the statements on both sides, the IDF remained at its highest readiness level along the border Thursday.

The two soldiers killed in Wednesday’s Hezbollah ambush, Maj. Yochai Kalengel and Sgt. Dor Nini, will be laid to rest Thursday.

Kalengel, a 25-year-old company commander from the West Bank settlement of Har Gilo, will be buried in Jerusalem at 11 a.m. He is survived by a wife and young daughter. Nini, 20, of the southern community of Shtulim, will be buried near his home at 14:30.

Ahead of the funerals Kalengel’s friend Ziv Shilon — a military captain who lost an arm in the Gaza Strip in a 2012 border bombing — called him “a superb commander, a wonderful friend, an amazing dad and above all an incomparable human being. There are no words to describe the pain we feel,” Shilon wrote on his Facebook page. “We found ourselves sitting at home together, helpless, praying that someone will wake us from this nightmare.”

The border region remained quiet throughout the night. On Thursday morning Israeli military forces renewed digging work along the border to rule out the possibility of offensive tunnels being dug underground. The work had been stopped Wednesday morning following the attack.

The soldiers’ vehicle was hit by the first of six Kornet guided anti-tank missiles fired at an IDF convoy near Ghajar, on a civilian road near the border. Other soldiers in the convoy evacuated their vehicles when the first missile struck, preventing further losses, though seven soldiers were injured. The missiles were said to have been fired from a distance of some 4.5 kilometers.

Following the attack communities along the border entered emergency mode, preparing for a possible escalation and further Hezbollah attacks that, so far, have not come. Some roads were closed off for several hours. Residents of Ghajar who were away from the Arab border village during the attack were prevented from returning to their homes and families until the evening.

On Wednesday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Israel could retaliate harshly for the attack.

The army, meanwhile, said it would investigate why the two vehicles hit by the anti-tank missiles were unarmored. IDF spokesman Almoz refused to respond to inquiries as to why the soldiers were traveling in unarmored vehicles along the road to Ghajar, and asked for patience to await the results of the investigation.

AP contributed to this report.

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