ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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IDF ramps up strikes in Lebanon, and reportedly in Syria, amid ongoing attacks on north

Hezbollah deputy chief warns fighting won’t stop till Israel ends Gaza Strip campaign; Netanyahu says activity aimed at restoring security to north

Smoke billows after an Israeli strike on Lebanon's southern town of Kfar Kila near the border with Israel on December 30, 2023. (AFP)
Smoke billows after an Israeli strike on Lebanon's southern town of Kfar Kila near the border with Israel on December 30, 2023. (AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces carried out airstrikes on southern Lebanon Sunday as it ramped up responses to fire on northern Israel by the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.

The IDF has ratcheted up attacks in recent days, as the military aims to push the terror group back from Israel’s northern border.

Recent days have also seen several airstrikes in Syria attributed to the IDF, believed to be part of efforts by Israel to prevent Iran from supplying arms to Hezbollah amid the ongoing skirmishes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said military action against Lebanese Hezbollah is needed to restore security to the north. Meanwhile, Hezbollah’s deputy commander warned that quiet will only return if Israel ends its war in the Gaza Strip, where it is battling the Hamas terror group.

Israeli Air Force fighter jets pounded Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon on Sunday morning, the military said.

According to the IDF, the targets in the village of Ramyeh included military buildings and other infrastructure belonging to the terror group.

It said Hezbollah “operates from the area of ​​the village, which is used as a terror center for the group to observe and carry out terror acts.”

The IDF said Hezbollah has launched missiles at Israel from Ramyeh, while “exploiting the civilian population in the village area and using it as a human shield.”

On Sunday, Hezbollah claimed at least three attacks on IDF positions on the Lebanon border.

The night before, IDF strikes also hit Hezbollah positions in Aamra and Khiam, close to the Israeli border. One of the sites was used to fire an anti-tank missile at the Galilee on Saturday, the IDF said.

The northern border has become increasingly volatile as Iran-backed Hezbollah fires rockets at northern Israel and carries out attacks along the border, saying it is acting in support of Hamas. Tens of thousands of northern residents have been displaced to other areas of Israel due to the incessant rocket fire.

War erupted when Palestinian terror group Hamas carried out a devastating October 7 attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. At least 240 people were abducted from southern Israel and taken as hostages into Gaza.

Israel responded to the attack with a military campaign, including a ground incursion, aimed at removing Hamas from power and freeing the hostages.

In public remarks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday, Netanyahu said, “We are acting to restore security to the north and to return residents to their homes. That requires continuing the fighting there at the moment. If we don’t achieve that [security] through diplomacy we will achieve it through military means.”

Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who has in the past clashed with Netanyahu over how the combat in Gaza is being conducted, challenged the prime minister, saying that “there is a feeling that the actions in the north are being carried out according to the lines of thinking of October 6,” Kan news reported.

Barkat was referring to the attitude held in the defense establishment before October 7 that Hamas was deterred from carrying out a significant attack on Israel, which allegedly led officials to dismiss signs of the impending assault.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a weekly cabinet meeting at the Hakirya base in Tel Aviv on December 31, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Barkat urged a stronger response to Hezbollah’s provocations, saying, “If there is not a clear victory the residents won’t go back and we will have lost the north. We need to wake up now and change the equation.”

Netanyahu rejected his criticism, saying: “We are attacking far more than is thought.” He did not offer further details.

Barkat insisted that the small war cabinet overseeing the war, of which he is not a member, was in the wrong mindset, saying: “Hezbollah is playing chess and the war cabinet backgammon.”

Naim Qassem, deputy director-general of Hezbollah, was quoted in Lebanese media Sunday saying Israel will not be able to allow residents to return to their homes in northern Israel so long as the Gaza war is ongoing.

He said Israel will not achieve anything without halting its campaign in Gaza, and warned that “the continued harm to Lebanese citizens will lead the response to be stronger.”

The mayor of Kiryat Shmona, a key border area town, said residents will not return to their homes until Hezbollah has been pushed back from the northern border.

“Nearly 90% of the city’s residents have evacuated and are scattered throughout the country,” Avichai Stern told Kan.

“As long as the Radwan Unit is on the border, we will not return to our homes,” he said, referring to the terror group’s elite unit that has trained for an invasion of Israel.

Sheik Naim Qassem, Hezbollah’s deputy leader speaks during a memorial of a Hezbollah fighter who killed in South Lebanon by an Israeli airstrike, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 28, 2023. (Hussein Malla/AP)

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the Lebanese border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

The skirmishes on the border have resulted in four civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of nine IDF soldiers. There have also been several rocket attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 134 members killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 19 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 19 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

IDF Spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said Friday that Hezbollah’s deployment in southern Lebanon “no longer looks the same as it did on October 6, and it will never be the same again.”

“Widespread” strikes were carried out against Hezbollah sites in Kafr Kila on Saturday morning and afternoon, the IDF said.

Smoke rises during an exchange of fire between the IDF and Hezbollah terrorists on the border between Israel and Lebanon, December 26, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Meanwhile, over the weekend, a series of alleged Israeli airstrikes were reported in Syria, amid Israel’s efforts to prevent Iran’s supply of weapons to Hezbollah and other terror proxies in the Middle East.

On Saturday, munition warehouses belonging to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force were reportedly targeted near Aleppo International Airport in northern Syria.

Earlier Saturday, airstrikes in eastern Syria near a strategic border crossing with Iraq killed four Hezbollah terrorists and two other Iran-backed militants.

Alleged Israeli airstrikes also hit the Syrian capital of Damascus and other areas of southern Syria on Thursday night.

The strikes come days after a senior IRGC officer, Brig. Gen. Razi Mousavi, was killed Monday in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Damascus.

Israel rarely comments on individual strikes targeting Syria, but it has repeatedly said it will not allow Iran, which backs President Bashar Assad’s government, to expand its presence there.

The Israeli military says it attacks arms shipments in Syria believed to be bound for Iran-backed terror groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Additionally, airstrikes attributed to Israel have repeatedly targeted Syrian air defense systems.

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