IDF chief tours tense northern border as army braces for Hezbollah strike
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IDF chief tours tense northern border as army braces for Hezbollah strike

Visit comes day after military cancels leave for all combat soldiers in north and commander of area vows harsh response to any attack

Illustrative: Israeli soldiers patrolling near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, close to the border with Lebanon, August 26, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
Illustrative: Israeli soldiers patrolling near the northern Israeli town of Avivim, close to the border with Lebanon, August 26, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

Army Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi toured Israel’s tense northern border on Friday, a day after the army canceled leave for combat soldiers in the area and the military’s commander in the north warned Israel would offer a “harsh” response to any Hezbollah attack.

Kohavi met with Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram and other military officials in the area for a situational assessment, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

IDF soldiers in northern Israel have been on high alert this week over fears of a reprisal attack from Hezbollah or another Iranian proxy following Israeli airstrikes against Iran-linked targets in Syria, and an armed drone attack on Hezbollah’s south Beirut stronghold, which has been blamed on Israel.

The Northern Command on Thursday canceled all leave for combat brigades on Israel’s northern border, just hours after the military’s commander in the north warned Israel would offer a “harsh” response to any Hezbollah attack.

The IDF believes Hezbollah intends to attack Israeli soldiers or a military installation on the border, and not civilians.

The freeze on soldiers’ leave in the north will be in effect until further notice, the army said.

Earlier Thursday, Baram, who ordered the move, met with mayors of northern communities in a bid to calm jitters over the escalating tensions.

Several mayors asked him if they should open municipal bomb shelters in anticipation of possible conflict with Lebanon. Baram replied that such a step was not yet necessary.

He then seemed to threaten Hezbollah with war.

“You should be preparing not for Hezbollah’s response against the IDF, but for their response to our response” to such an attack, he quipped.

He vowed that “if an IDF soldier is so much as scratched, our response will be harsh.”

The Lebanese frontier was especially tense Thursday, following an incident the night before where Lebanese troops fired on Israeli drones, claiming they had entered Lebanon’s airspace.

IDF vehicles patrol near the Lebanon border, August 27, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Also on Friday, residents of the northern village of Ghajar, on Israel’s border with Lebanon, complained that the IDF had closed the main road to the village.

They said the road had been closed since Thursday afternoon and that they had been requested to use an alternative route for IDF vehicles that was not suitable for civilian vehicles, according to a report from the Ynet news site.

Village residents said they had been told to stay inside their homes, except in emergency situations.

The IDF said that the road had been blocked temporarily, and that there were no restrictions placed on the residents themselves.

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