Army orders evacuation of Kiryat Shmona as terror groups keep up attacks from Lebanon

Soldier seriously hurt in shooting; IDF strikes five terror cells in southern Lebanon; dozens of rockets target Mount Dov, Metula; missiles hit army posts

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by missiles launched by the Hezbollah terror group, as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, south Lebanon, October 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

There were renewed skirmishes on Israel’s border with Lebanon on Friday, with the Israeli military reporting that it had foiled plans by Hezbollah to carry out attacks, while a gunman possibly managed to infiltrate into Israel and open fire at forces, seriously wounding a soldier. A number of rockets and missiles were also launched at northern Israel from Lebanon, prompting Israeli artillery shelling in response.

Recent days have seen repeated clashes between the Israeli military and the Hezbollah terror group and allied Palestinian factions in southern Lebanon, amid fears a new front could be opened as Israel continues its war with Hamas terrorists in the Gaza Strip.

In the first incident Friday, the Israel Defense Forces said troops operating near the northern town of Margaliot, on the Lebanon border, came under fire. One reservist soldier was seriously wounded.

The IDF said troops returned fire and launched a manhunt for the gunman. Several hours later he was killed in a new exchange of fire in the area. It remained unclear if he had infiltrated into Israel from Lebanon.

Residents of nearby towns were told to go into bomb shelters as a precaution, though most have already evacuated amid repeated rocket and missile attacks from Lebanon.

Israeli soldiers patrol near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, October 19, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The IDF said it struck five terror cells in southern Lebanon on Friday. A group of three Hezbollah terrorists who were identified by forces near Israel’s security barrier were targeted in a drone strike; Israeli snipers opened fire at gunmen who were identified near a different part of the border fence; another drone strike was carried out against a terror cell near the border; an anti-tank guided missile squad was hit in another strike; and a drone struck a Hezbollah cell at one of the terror group’s posts in southern Lebanon, according to the IDF.

Also Friday, the IDF said some 20-30 rockets were launched from Lebanon toward the contested Mount Dov area — where there are a number of military positions and no towns — and two rockets were fired at the northern town of Metula. Anti-tank guided missiles were also fired at several IDF posts, and gunfire targeted Israeli surveillance equipment on the border.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the missiles and gunfire.

There were no injuries in the rocket and missile attacks during the day on Friday. The IDF said it was responding with artillery shelling against the sources of the fire.

Incoming rocket sirens also sounded in the border town of Dovev, which the IDF later said was a false alarm.

On Friday evening, anti-tank guided missiles were again launched from Lebanon at Israeli troops operating in the Netu’a and Biranit areas on the northern border, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The IDF said it is responding with artillery shelling at the sources of the missile fire.

The military did not immediately release information on possible casualties.

Also on Friday night, the IDF said it intercepted a “target” — believed to be a drone — that was heading toward Israeli airspace from Lebanon.

The IDF said the object did not manage to enter Israeli airspace.

Israeli soldiers drive an armored personal carrier (APC) in the northern Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona, Oct. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Baz Ratner)

The IDF said it also struck several sites belonging to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon overnight in response to rocket and missile fire on northern Israel on Thursday.

Separately, the IDF said it carried out a drone strike killing a terror operative in southern Lebanon, in the area of the northern border, in the pre-dawn hours of Friday.

No further details were given on the terror operative, including his affiliation or what he was planning to carry out.

Meanwhile, on Friday morning, the military ordered the evacuation of Kiryat Shmona amid escalating tensions on the northern border. The town has a population of some 22,000 residents, though many have already left.

Israeli security forces inspect a site where a rocket launched from Lebanon landed in the northern city of Kiryat Shmona near the border on October 19, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

On Thursday, three residents were injured by a rocket strike on a home in what appeared to be the most serious attack on the city since 2006.

Earlier this week, the Defense Ministry’s National Emergency Management Authority began working to evacuate all communities within two kilometers of the Lebanon border. The 28 towns and villages have an estimated 27,000 residents

Hezbollah has fired dozens of anti-tank guided missiles, rockets and mortars at Israeli military positions and Israeli towns since the Hamas onslaught, while also sending gunmen — some affiliated with Palestinian terror groups — to infiltrate into northern Israel. Several drones have also been intercepted over northern Israel.

The tit-for-tat attacks have so far remained limited in scope, amid threats from Israel that Lebanon could suffer if Hezbollah steps up its attacks.

At least five Israeli soldiers, 13 Hezbollah terrorists and five Palestinian terrorists have been killed in the exchanges. One Israeli civilian was killed in a Hezbollah attack, and several Lebanese civilians and a journalist were also reported killed by Israeli shelling.

The attacks from Lebanon have come as Israel is waging war in Gaza against Hamas after the terror group’s murderous assault on the country on October 7, in which some 1,400 people were killed, mostly civilians, and more than 200 were kidnapped and taken to the Strip.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi said Tuesday that if the Iran-backed Hezbollah “makes a mistake,” it will face “destruction.”

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi is seen at the Northern Command in Safed, October 17, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

There have been escalating threats from Iran regarding the possibility of the war being widened, as Israel prepares a ground offensive with the stated goal of toppling Hamas’s rule over the Palestinian enclave.

Israel and the US have both warned Iran and Hezbollah to remain on the sidelines, with Washington dispatching two aircraft carrier groups to the region, signaling it could step in to defend Israel.

With alert levels high, Hezbollah has said it would be “fully prepared” to join its Palestinian ally Hamas in the war against Israel when the time is right.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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