Israeli soldiers on Saturday opened fire at three suspected Hezbollah fighters on the Israeli-Lebanese border, the army said.
A military spokeswoman said the incident took place close to Yiftah, south of Metula, a town near which a tunnel from Lebanon was found on Tuesday.
The military said the three men attempted to approach an “area of technological work” in an enclave north of the security fence, as the IDF continues Operation Northern Shield to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels dug under the border.
The army said it believed the three attempted to use the cover of stormy weather to approach the Israeli forces. Troops fired towards the three “in accordance with the standard operating procedures” and they fled the scene. “Work in the area continues as usual,” it said.
Lebanon’s official NNA news agency said Israeli forces fired shots in the air east of the village of Mays Al-Jabal after they were surprised because of heavy fog by a routine Lebanese army patrol.
Israel announced on Tuesday that it had launched an operation dubbed Northern Shield to uncover and destroy subterranean passages dug by Hezbollah into Israel.
The Israeli military said it believes the tunnels were meant to be used by Hezbollah as a surprise component of an opening salvo in a future war, alongside the mass infiltration of operatives above ground and the launching of rockets, missiles and mortar shells at northern Israel.
The army has so far uncovered two tunnels and is working to reveal a third.
A senior Israeli official on Thursday said the tunnels discovered inside Israel were large enough to be used by “entire battalions” to enter Israeli territory in order to “carry out killing sprees and kidnappings and to capture Israeli towns and villages.”
The number of tunnels the IDF believes the Lebanese terror group has dug into Israel, as well as other information connected to the army’s tunnel-busting operation, cannot be published by order of the military censor.
The army on Thursday called for assistance from the peacekeeping force UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces in neutralizing the threat of one of the tunnels from within Lebanon as it was struggling to locate an opening to the underground passage on the Israeli side of the border.
An army spokesperson said the military was confident that the tunnel existed and had penetrated into Israeli territory, but the IDF had thus far been unable to locate a specific opening to it due to the rocky earth and recent inclement weather.
A senior Israeli minister said Friday that Israeli forces may need to go into Lebanon to deal with some of the tunnels.
“If we think that in order to thwart the tunnels that one needs to operate on the other side, then we will operate on the other side of the border,” Israel Katz, who holds the intelligence and transport ministries, told Radio Tel Aviv, according to Reuters.
An IDF incursion into Lebanon could spark a major confrontation with Hezbollah.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that Hezbollah seeks to send “entire battalions” into Israel, including via the tunnels Israel is now tackling, in order to seize land, and kidnap and kill Israelis.
Netanyahu warned that Hezbollah seeks to infiltrate “several battalions” into Israel — to seize territory, “murder and kidnap.” Hezbollah’s tunnels are “broader” than those of the Gaza-based Hamas terror group, the prime minister said.
“If you look at the Hamas tunnels, they’re very narrow, basically for one person. The Hezbollah tunnels are broad. They enable several people to come at one and also to put motorcycles, I’m pretty sure tractors and so on,” Netanyahu told a group foreign envoys as they toured the area.
This, he elaborated, was “in order to bring in many forces, simultaneously, which means several battalions into our territory, with the purpose of cutting off communities here, towns, kibbutzim, and then going into a campaign of murder and kidnapping, which could happen simultaneously.”
Netanyahu urged the foreign diplomats to condemn and sanction the Shiite terror group for its aggressive actions.
“Israel expects an unequivocal condemnation of Hezbollah, the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran, a condemnation from the Lebanese government and a demand that it stop giving its approval for the use of its territory for these attacks against Israel,” he told the group of senior ambassadors from across the globe.
AFP, Judah Ari Gross and Michael Bachner contributed to this report.