The Hezbollah terror group on Tuesday said a drone that crashed in its Beirut stronghold early Sunday contained an explosive device weighing more than five kilograms (11 pounds).
The Iran-backed Shiite group had previously said an Israeli reconnaissance drone had flown over the south of Beirut before crashing, and that a second armed drone had then “hit a specific area” before dawn on Sunday.
But after the party’s “experts dismantled the first drone that crashed in Beirut’s southern suburbs, it was found that it contained a sealed explosive device” of around 5.5 kilograms, it said in a statement.
“We confirm that the purpose of this first drone was not reconnaissance but the carrying out of a bombing attack,” it added.
The latest discovery, Hezbollah said, confirms that Sunday’s drone attack involved not one but two explosive-rigged drones — one which exploded and the other that did not because of a technical failure.
While both Hezbollah and the Lebanese military insist the drones were sent by Israel, several well-connected Israeli commentators, including a former IDF general, said the drones appeared to be of an Iranian origin.
Official Lebanese state media released a photograph of the quadcopter-style UAV that crashed. It appears to be a civilian drone with extremely limited range that the Israeli military would likely be unable or uninterested in using for a sensitive operation like conducting reconnaissance on, or attacking, a Hezbollah stronghold.
The Israel Defense Forces refused to publicly comment on the incident, saying it does not comment on “foreign reports.”
Earlier on Monday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun denounced the alleged Israeli drone attack as a “declaration of war.”
It marked the first such “hostile action” in Lebanon since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, the Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday, vowing retaliation.
“The time — in which Israeli planes come and bombard a place in Lebanon and the usurping entity of Palestine remains secure — has ended,” he declared. “From now on, we will confront the Israeli drones in Lebanon’s skies… and we will take action to bring them down.”
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that his country was ready to use “all means necessary” to defend itself against Iranian threats “on several fronts.”
The United Nations, meanwhile, has called for “maximum restraint” by all parties.
Hezbollah, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States, is a major political actor in Lebanon and also a key government backer in war-torn Syria.
The reported Beirut drone attack came after Israel on Saturday carried out airstrikes in neighboring Syria to thwart what it said was a plot to fly explosives-laden drones into the country.
Nasrallah on Sunday said two Hezbollah members were among those killed in the strike. They were laid to rest in Beirut’s southern suburbs on Monday, amid a large turnout of party supporters.
In a separate incident, Arabic media claimed early Monday morning that Israeli aircraft had carried out an airstrike deep inside Lebanon on a base belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, a Syria-based terrorist group that fights alongside Syrian dictator Bashar Assad.
The base is located in the Bekaa Valley in eastern Lebanon, near the border with Syria.
In a further spike in regional violence on Sunday there was an attack on an Iran-linked militia in Iraq, and on Monday, Israel bombed a Hamas base in Gaza in response to three rockets being fired into Israel from the Strip.
The string of incidents has raised fears of a widening conflagration in the region after years of Israel restricting its air campaign against Iran-backed fighters to Syria. In recent months, Israel has also been blamed for attacks on Iran-backed fighters in Iraq.
Soldiers in northern Israel have been put on high alert over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or Iran following the airstrikes.
According to Israel’s Channel 12 news, the army believes Hezbollah will attempt to attack soldiers or a military installation and not civilians, iting a military officer. The report added that the Israeli military would be deploying extra troops to the area.
The officer said Israel’s response to such a reprisal would be “disproportionate.”
Hezbollah is thought to be constrained domestically by concerns inside Lebanon that a reprisal attack could wind up dragging the country into war.
Israel’s Channel 13 news reported Monday that Israel has warned Lebanon that any Hezbollah attack against Israel would bring an Israeli response against Lebanon as a whole: “It won’t distinguish between Lebanon and Hezbollah.”