Fighting appears to intensify ahead of Nasrallah speech

Elderly woman and her son killed at home in Hezbollah anti-tank missile attack

Barak Ayalon, 45, member of Kfar Yuval security team, killed alongside mother Miri Ayalon, 76, when projectile from Lebanon slams into northern town

Barak Ayalon, left, and Miri Ayalon, in undated photos. (Courtesy)
Barak Ayalon, left, and Miri Ayalon, in undated photos. (Courtesy)

A man and his elderly mother were killed in a cross-border missile attack on a northern Israel community Sunday as fighting with the Hezbollah terror group appeared to intensify, undercutting US hopes for a diplomatic push to restore calm.

The anti-tank missile strike on the town of Kfar Yuval occurred hours after three gunmen from Lebanon were killed in a firefight with troops after infiltrating into northern Israel under the cover of predawn fog, and as Hezbollah rocket fire and Israel Defense Forces airstrikes echoed across the border region, sending the region spiraling closer to war.

Barak Ayalon, 45, and his mother Miri Ayalon, 76, were killed when an anti-tank missile slammed into their home in the border community, in an attack claimed by the Hezbollah terror group.

Barak Ayalon was declared dead at the scene by Magen David Adom medics, while Miri Ayalon died a short time later after being rushed to a hospital in serious condition.

A 74-year-old man, identified in media reports as Barak Ayalon’s father, was treated for acute anxiety, MDA said.

The killings were the first to claim the lives of Israeli civilians on the northern border since November 13, when an anti-tank missile fired by Hezbollah killed Shalom Aboudi, a 56-year-old electrician repairing power lines damaged in another attack. Two soldiers, Sgt. Amit Hod Ziv and Staff Sgt. Daniel Nachmani, were killed in separate attacks in late December.

The Israel Defense Forces identified Ayalon, a staff sergeant in reserves, as a member of Kfar Yuval’s security team. While tens of thousands of people have evacuated northern communities to escape danger, some have opted to stay put.

Hezbollah touted the attack, claiming it had been aimed at troops.

A wounded person from the scene of the anti-tank missile attack in Kfar Yuval is brought to the Ziv Medical Center in Safed, northern Israel, January 14, 2024. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The deaths appeared certain to ratchet up already sky-high tensions on the border, which has inched closer to war in recent weeks as rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon on northern Israel communities have persisted, though both sides say they prefer to avoid an all-out fight.

Aside from the deadly strike on Kfar Yuval, Hezbollah claimed responsibility for separate missile attacks near the northern communities of Shomera and Margaliot, as well as a sniper attack on “spy equipment” in Metula.

Anti-tank missiles were also fired by Hezbollah at the community of Zar’it, the IDF said. The army reported that rockets fired at Misgav Am and Goren landed in open areas.

The military said it carried out airstrikes on Hezbollah targets in Lebanon in response to the attacks, hitting a command center, a military target, and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group.

This picture taken from an Israeli position along the border with southern Lebanon shows smoke billowing above the Lebanese village of Adayseh during Israeli bombardment on January 14, 2024. (jalaa marey / AFP)

Lebanese reports also claimed there was artillery shelling on a wide range of sites in southern Lebanon.

Early Sunday morning, three gunmen were killed while sneaking into Israel in the contested Mount Dov region on the border, also known as Shebaa farms. Five Israeli troops were lightly and moderately wounded in the encounter. The three were not claimed by any group.

The apparent intensification of fighting came a week after the assassination, apparently by Israel, of senior Hezbollah commander Wissam Tawil, who was reportedly a top figure in the terror group’s Radwan force.

Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah was giving a speech later Sunday to mark Tawil’s killing. Sunday also marked 100 days since the Hamas terror group’s brutal onslaught on southern Gaza, in which 1,200 people were killed, and some 250 people kidnapped, over half of whom remain hostage in Gaza. Events across the country marked the milestone, including a 24-hour rally on behalf of the remaining hostages.

As fighting in Gaza has eased somewhat in recent weeks, security concerns have increasingly turned northward toward Lebanon, with some warning that Israel could launch a war on its northern neighbor to push Hezbollah away from the border and allow residents of northern Israel to return home.

An Israeli ambulance and soldiers are stationed at the entrance of Kfar Yuval in northern Israel near the Lebanon border after an anti-tank missile attack on January 14, 2024. (jalaa marey / AFP)

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 six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers and reservists. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Senior Hezbollah commander Wissam al-Tawil (L) with the terror group’s chief Hassan Nasrallah in an undated photo. (Courtesy)

Hezbollah has named 161 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 19 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Last week, Nasrallah hailed “a historic opportunity” to help Lebanon regain control of disputed borderland, “after this phase [of fighting] ends and after the aggression on Gaza.”

Days earlier, he indicated that Hezbollah was not seeking war, but warned, “If the enemy thinks of waging a war on Lebanon, we will fight without restraint, without rules, without limits and without restrictions.”

A man lights candles to mark 100 days since the start of the war during a protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the current Israeli government, in Tel Aviv, January 13, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said last week that Jerusalem “prefers a diplomatic path over a military one,” but warned: “We are close to the point of the hourglass turning over.”

On Thursday, US envoy Amos Hochstein said both Lebanon and Israel “prefer” a diplomatic deal to end hostilities on the border, after meetings on both sides of the border.

“We need to find a diplomatic solution that will allow for the Lebanese people to return to their homes in south Lebanon… as the people of Israel need to be able to return to their homes in their north,” Hochstein told reporters in Beirut.

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