‘A nightmare’: North cries out for action amid widespread fires sparked by Hezbollah

Opposition lawmakers pan ‘weak’ government as fires burn for over a day across swaths of territory; far-right ministers say Lebanon should ‘burn,’ be sent back to ‘Stone Age’

Footage shows fires burning in the area of the northern city of Kiryat Shmona on June 3, 2024, following rocket and drone attacks from nearby Lebanon. (Social media/X. Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Residents and local authorities in northern Israel demanded Tuesday that the government take clear action to restore security, as bushfires sparked by Hezbollah rockets launched from Lebanon spread across large swaths of territory, with emergency services straining to control the blazes.

A spokesperson for Kiryat Shmona, where fires lapped overnight at the outskirts of the evacuated border city, lamented that the government was failing to provide even the most basic level of security for residents.

Opposition lawmakers panned the government for failing to control what has been an escalating border conflict with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group, while far-right ministers declared it was time to go to war in Lebanon, a course of action the government has sought to avoid as Israel is already fighting the Palestinian terror group Hamas in the Gaza Strip, with no clear end to that conflict in sight after eight months of war.

Rocket fire that began on Sunday and continued on Monday caused sweeping wildfires that rapidly spread amid hot, dry conditions. Eleven people were treated for light smoke inhalation and there was some damage to property and agricultural areas.

By Tuesday morning, the Fire and Rescue Services said they had most blazes under control. However, at around 9 a.m., warning sirens blared throughout the Galilee due to a possible drone and rocket attack from Lebanon. An Israeli interceptor missile apparently launched at a target was said to have failed and exploded near the city of Safed. Falling fragments from the missile caused a new fire in the area.

“The politicians are talking so much they don’t get around to doing anything,” Kiryat Shmona municipal spokesperson Doron Shnaper told the Kan public broadcaster. “I prefer that there be less talk and more action, on security and economic matters, about the day after the war. There have been a lot of promises. In practice, nothing is happening.”

The city, along with many other communities close to the Lebanon border, was largely evacuated of residents when Hezbollah began attacking over the boundary on October 8, the day after Palestinian terror group Hamas led a devastating attack on Israel that opened the war in Gaza. Hezbollah, which has reached further and further into northern Israel with increased rocket and drone attacks, says it is acting in support of the Palestinians.

As he was talking to Kan, Shnaper said he could hear explosions in the area of the border.

View of a large fire caused from rockets fired from Lebanon, in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, June 3, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

“Anyone who thinks you can leave us [residents] for eight months” displaced from home, “and that will solve the problem, is making a big mistake,” he said. “If you don’t take care of Kiryat Shmona you will get terror and rockets in Tel Aviv, but then it will be too late. It is very sad that in 2024 Israel can’t provide us with the most basic thing, security.

“Hezbollah is fighting and we are hardly doing anything,” Shnaper said.

A large fire caused by rockets fired from Lebanon, in the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, June 3, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Kiryat Shmona resident Amit Freedman told the Ynet news site that the fires have been a “nightmare.”

“We demand that the government deal with the north,” he said. “It seems that they forgot about us. It is as though they gave [Hezbollah leader Hassan] Nasrallah a pass to do whatever he wants.”

Rabbi Ariel Barkai, the head of a yeshiva in Kiryat Shmona, told Ynet: “We call on the government to act in order to decisively restore security to the north.”

As the residents called for action, far-right members of the cabinet called on leaders to fully unleash the military on Hezbollah. Though Israel has responded to the Hezbollah attacks with measured strikes on the terror group’s members and infrastructure in Lebanon, ministers called for all-out war, as they have been doing for weeks.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, in a statement quoted by Hebrew media, wrote that “what is happening in north is [moral] bankruptcy” decrying “reckless management” by a cabinet allegedly still caught in the conception that limited counterattacks will bring long-term quiet.

“[We’re seeing] a continuation of… a policy that led directly to October 7,” Ben Gvir wrote. “It’s time for all of Lebanon to burn.”

Otzma Yehudit party leader National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir leads a faction meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich tweeted: “The new conception led by the war cabinet has been going up in flames for many hours and is exploding in our faces,” referring to the three-member forum established to oversee the ongoing war, consisting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, and Minister Benny Gantz.

“A year ago, there was a defense minister who said that we will send Lebanon back to the Stone Age,” he continued, recalling remarks made by Gallant.

“The time has come” to do so, Smotrich wrote, addressing Netanyahu, Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi. “There is full backing from the entire Israeli people.”

Opposition lawmakers slammed the government for failing to protect the north, calling for elections to replace the coalition.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid tweeted: “The north goes up in flames and Israeli deterrence burns with it. The government has no plan for the day after in Gaza, no plan to return the residents to the north, no management, no strategy. A government of total abandonment.”

Lapid also hit out at far-right Ben Gvir, whose ministry oversees the fire service, for allegedly attending a festive event in Jerusalem as blazes raged across the north. Ben Gvir said he had only attended for 10 minutes.

“There has never been a more reckless government in the country’s history,” Lapid charged. “They just don’t care. Not about the north, the south, nor the hostages.”

Fellow members of Lapid’s Yesh Atid party also vented against the government.

MK Yasmin Sacks-Friedman tweeted that “all night, the north has been going up in flames” while Ben Gvir was giving a studio interview to the media and attending the event in Jerusalem.

MK Moshe Turpaz called for “elections now,” writing: “The Israeli government has lost control” — using a Hebrew idiom that literally translates as “lost the north.”

Yisrael Beytenu MK Vladimir Beliak scorned an update sent out overnight by the Prime Minister’s Office regarding Netanyahu’s planned trip to the US to speak before Congress.

In a tweet, he mocked Netanyahu for saying about the north on May 23: “We are constantly working in the north as well — we have detailed, important and even surprising plans,” along with a screen capture of the PMO update.

Religious Zionism party leader Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting in northern Israel, May 19, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

New Hope MK Ze’ev Elkin tweeted that “the north is burning, and Hezbollah’s fire is increasing and expanding,” deriding the “totally weak government.”

The fires came amid intensifying cross-border skirmishes between Israel and Hezbollah, with the Iran-backed terror group firing numerous barrages at the Galilee and Golan Heights in recent days. According to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, a series of rocket and drone attacks on Sunday caused bushfires that consumed 10,000 dunams (over 2,470 acres) of foliage in open areas, including nature reserves.

Opposition Head Yair Lapid speaks during his Yesh Atid party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, June 3, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

So far, the skirmishes on the border have resulted in 10 civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 14 IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 328 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 62 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and dozens of civilians have been killed.

Israel has expressed openness to a diplomatic solution to the conflict but has threatened to go to war against Hezbollah to restore security to the north of Israel, where tens of thousands of civilians are currently displaced.

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