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IDF bolsters northern defense amid Hezbollah threat

In Lebanon, convoy fires in the air near Israel’s northern border, prompting flurry of army activity

IDF soldiers in northern Israel on January 19, 2015 (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)
IDF soldiers in northern Israel on January 19, 2015 (photo credit: Basal Awidat/Flash90)

Northern Israel was on high alert on Tuesday evening in anticipation of a Hezbollah retaliation for a deadly airstrike on Sunday, with the army closing off highways on the border with Lebanon and bolstering its forces.

Earlier, across the border, Lebanese men in a convoy of cars bearing Hezbollah flags fired in the air, prompting IDF troops stationed nearby to mobilize in expectation of a possible attack, Channel 2 reported. The vehicles drove away shortly after, avoiding a confrontation.

The convoy was returning from the funeral of one of the Hezbollah members killed in Sunday’s airstrike. Six Hezbollah members, including Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of the late Hezbollah military commander Imad Mughniyeh, died in the helicopter strike. Six other Iranian nationals, one of them a general, were killed as well.

Israel has refused to acknowledge it carried out the attack.

On Tuesday, an Israeli source told Reuters the strike did not intend to target Iranian Revolutionary Guards General Mohammed Allahdadi, but official sources later distanced themselves from these remarks.

Hezbollah has accused Israel of carrying out Sunday’s airstrike, which occurred on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights. Israel, which is believed to be behind a number of airstrikes in Syria in recent years, has neither confirmed nor denied involvement.

According to defense officials, the army beefed up its air defenses and increased surveillance along its northern frontier as it went on high alert.

Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese television station Al-Manar said that Israeli Air Force jets were overflying southern Lebanon on Tuesday night.

Israeli officials said Iron Dome missile defense batteries have been deployed near the Syrian and Lebanese borders as a precautionary measure.

Israel’s security cabinet met for several hours on Tuesday to discuss a possible escalation in violence.

Despite the heightened alert, residents of the border towns were not given special instructions, but a section of the border highway from Avivim to Dovev was closed to civilian vehicles until further notice.

In south Lebanon, thousands of Hezbollah supporters on Tuesday swarmed around the yellow-draped coffin of Mohammad Issa, a Hezbollah commander who died in the airstrike. Issa was the highest-ranking among the group, and was among the group’s most senior commanders overseeing its operations in Syria.

Around 10,000 supporters took part in his funeral in the southern Lebanese village of Arab Salim. Mourners fired in the air and shouted anti-Israel slogans.

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