IDF launches rare preemptive attack on Iran-backed terror group

Hezbollah fires overnight rocket salvo at northern towns after IDF strikes in Lebanon

Kiryat Shmona says 2 projectiles landed in city, causing damage but no injuries; Lebanese state media reports Israeli fighter jets hit targets over 20 kilometers from border

An Israeli Air Force fighter jet flies over the border area with south Lebanon, in northern Israel on December 20, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
An Israeli Air Force fighter jet flies over the border area with south Lebanon, in northern Israel on December 20, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

Hezbollah fired rockets at Kiryat Shmona and other northern towns shortly after midnight Wednesday, following a day of escalating cross-border attacks between Israel and the Lebanese terror organization.

The Iran-backed group issued a statement saying it launched Katyusha rockets at Kiryat Shmona in response to Israel’s continued targeting of villages and civilian homes, while vowing not to allow harm to civilians or for Lebanese communities to become no man’s land.

There was no immediate statement from the Israel Defense Forces on the rocket fire.

The Kiryat Shmona Municipality said the salvo included at least eight rockets, two of which landed in the city, causing damage to infrastructure, homes, a preschool and cars.

There were no reports of injuries.

The municipality said the other five projectiles were intercepted, while one rocket fell in an open area.

The Hezbollah rocket attack came after Israeli warplanes conducted airstrikes deep inside Lebanon late Wednesday evening, hitting a forested area near the town of Bouslaya, more than 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the border, Lebanese state media reported.

An IDF announcement said fighter jets struck a Hezbollah command center in southern Lebanon in response to the repeated attacks on the border.

Meanwhile, four rockets were fired from Syria at the Golan Heights, setting off sirens in Mas’ade and Ein Quiniyye. The IDF said it shelled the source of the fire and targeted a Syrian Army position in response.

Troops also opened fire at a number of terror operatives who approached the Lebanon border, close to Metula, the IDF said.

Earlier, the military said it carried out a wave of strikes on Hezbollah sites. It said the targets included military buildings, rocket launch sites, a command center and a weapons depot belonging to the terror group.

The IDF said tanks and artillery also shelled areas along the Lebanon border to “remove threats.”

Smoke rises after rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel, in the Mount Dov area, December 20, 2023. (Ayal Margolini/Flash90)

Additionally, sirens sounded in northern Israel after two surface-to-air missiles were fired from Lebanon at an Israeli aircraft. The IDF said the aircraft was not hit in the incident.

Several rockets were also fired at Israel during the incident, and the IDF used an interceptor missile.

In the morning, the IDF carried out preemptive strikes against Hezbollah targets, which the army said included military sites where the terror group’s members operated and other infrastructure.

It is rare for Israel to strike first amid the ongoing clashes with Hezbollah, though not unheard-of.

Also on Wednesday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that an Israeli sniper had shot and killed a man in his car near the Lebanese border town of Kfar Kila. Hezbollah, which normally announces the deaths of its fighters, did not claim the man as a member. The group later announced that one of its fighters had been killed in an Israeli strike on a house in the town of Markaba on Wednesday evening.

Touring the north, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi said Wednesday that Israel “will not return to the previous situation” on the border, and will ensure “another, far safer condition” for residents of border communities.

“However things go, there will be a lot done here in the coming year,” he said

Israel has increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah forces away from its border through diplomatic means, it will take action. In recent days, officials from the US and France visiting the region have sought to head off an escalation on the Lebanese front.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks to soldiers in northern Israel, December 20, 2023 (IDF)

Israel has said it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the northern frontier after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which thousands of terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 240, mostly civilians.

Since that date, 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 four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of seven IDF soldiers. There have also been a number of rocket attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

On the Lebanese side, more than 130 have been killed, according to an AFP tally. The toll includes at least 110 Hezbollah members — some of whom were killed in Syria — 16 Palestinian terror operatives, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 17 civilians, three of whom were journalists.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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