ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Gallant warns Hezbollah that a potential pause in Gaza fighting won’t apply to north

Defense minister says IDF will keep operating against Lebanese terror group until security is restored for northern residents

This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
This handout photo shows Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meeting with soldiers in the IDF's Alpine Unit at Mount Hermon, February 2, 2024. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant asserted Friday that a potential pause in the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza will not apply to the ongoing hostilities with Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group.

“If Hezbollah thinks that when there’s a pause in fighting in the south, we will hold fire against it, it’s sorely mistaken,” Gallant said after meeting troops from the IDF’s Alpine Unit on Mount Hermon, according to a statement from his office.

The comments came amid negotiations via mediators between Israel and Hamas over a potential agreement that would see 136 hostages — almost three dozen of them confirmed dead — returned home in exchange for the release of a yet-to-be-determined number of Palestinian security prisoners as well as an extended pause in the fighting.

The previous weeklong truce agreement in late November, in which 105 hostages were released, saw both Israel and Hezbollah hold their fire on the northern border, even though this wasn’t part of the agreement inked between Israel and Hamas via Qatar and Egypt.

But Gallant warned Friday that would not be the case the next time around.

“I say here explicitly: Until we reach a situation in which it’s possible to restore security for residents of the north, we will not stop. Whether we reach this through a [diplomatic] arrangement or military means, we will [restore] calm,” he told troops, according to the statement from his office.

Also on Friday, the IDF said it struck Hezbollah sites across southern Lebanon, including a truck used to store weapons in the village of Kfarchouba.

Illustrative: Israeli artillery unit firing shells towards Lebanon near the Israeli border with Lebanon, January 15, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The strikes came following attacks on the border, including projectiles fired from Lebanon at Avivim and Yir’on, which didn’t cause injuries.

Hezbollah-led forces have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8, a day after its ally Hamas launched its October 7 massacre, killing 1,200 people across northern Israel and abducting 253 people of all ages. Hezbollah says its attacks are to support Gaza amid the war Hamas triggered through its attack.

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.

Hezbollah has named 177 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 20 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

Separately on Friday, Israeli fighter jets struck a Hezbollah cell in the southern Lebanese village of Aitaroun, the IDF said, adding that its planes also hit several Hezbollah sites in Khiam, Qana and Jabal Blat and that artillery-shelled areas in Jebbayn, Atta ash-Shab and Aitaroun to “remove threats.”

On Friday morning, two rockets were fired from Lebanon at Kiryat Shmona and a projectile was later fired at the Mount Dov area, leading the IDF to shell the launch sites.

The Lebanon rockets triggered sirens in Kiryat Shmona, Tel Hai, Kfar Yuval and Ma’ayan Baruch.

The communities have been largely evacuated of civilians since October 8.

Spanish UN peacekeepers stand on a hill overlooking the Lebanese border villages with Israel in Marjayoun town on January 10, 2024. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go to war in Lebanon after the campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza is over, with the aim of driving Hezbollah away from the border in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

On Tuesday, Gallant said “the stage will come when our patience will run out, and a forceful action to enforce peace on the northern border will also affect the Haifa metropolis.”

Gallant discussed northern border tensions during his call with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Thursday night.

The US is seeking to help broker a diplomatic agreement between Israel and Hezbollah in order to prevent a full-blown war between the sides.

US envoy Amos Hochstein is slated to arrive in Israel over the weekend to discuss efforts toward that end, following an earlier trip this month to soothe mounting tensions.

Hochstein was heavily involved in shepherding talks that culminated in Israel and Lebanon demarcating a maritime border in 2022.

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