ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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IDF carries out ‘wide-scale’ airstrikes on Hezbollah as rockets from Lebanon hit north

Anti-tank missile hits house in Avivim, causing no casualties; alert sirens go off in multiple communities along border and in Galilee Panhandle

Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following IDF bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)
Smoke billows across the horizon along the hills in the Naqura area of southern Lebanon following IDF bombardment from a position along the border in northern Israel on December 24, 2023. (Jalaa MAREY / AFP)

The Israel Defense Forces said it carried out “wide-scale” strikes against Hezbollah targets Sunday after barrages of rockets from Lebanon targeted multiple communities in northern Israel.

The IDF said fighter jets hit military buildings, rocket launchers, and other infrastructure belonging to the Iran-backed terror group in response to the rocket attacks. It also said it opened fire to “remove threats” at several areas along the border.

Cross-border attacks from Lebanon have persisted since the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip on October 7, when the Palestinian terror group carried out a devastating assault.

In one incident Sunday, an anti-tank missile from Lebanon hit a home in the border community of Avivim, causing significant damage but no injuries.

Communities close to the frontier with Lebanon have been largely evacuated of civilians since October.

Throughout the day, air raid sirens went off in Avivim, Margaliot, Yir’on, Shlomi, and the northern border Bedouin village of Arab al-Aramshe.

Smoke rises from a house in the Israeli community of Avivim that was hit by an anti-tank rocket fired across the border from Lebanon, December 24, 2023. (Courtesy)

There were also alerts in Sasa, Matat, and Dovev of a suspected enemy drone infiltration and rocket attack.

Several rockets were also fired from Lebanon at the Keren Naftali peak in the Galilee Panhandle.

The IDF said it shelled the source of the fire with artillery.

Israel has said it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the northern frontier after Hamas’s October 7 massacre, in which thousands of terrorists burst into Israel from Gaza, killing some 1,200 people and kidnapping over 240, mostly civilians.

As Israel launched a military campaign, including a ground incursion, to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages, it also rushed forces to the north as a precaution against Hezbollah mimicking the Hamas attack.

Since October 7, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the northern border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

Israel has retaliated, hitting Hezbollah sites and security threats near the border.

The Walla outlet cited defense sources as saying that Hezbollah has begun moving thousands of its forces away from the border in some areas to more northern regions of Lebanon, including members of its elite Radwan unit. Sources said it was unclear if the maneuver was temporary or a more permanent redeployment.

An unnamed senior defense source told Walla that Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah “was surprised not only by the desire and determination of the IDF to fight against him and even make sacrifices but also by the extent of the forces that have been positioned on the border from the beginning of the fighting to deprive him of his capabilities.

“The important thing is that the surprise he was thinking of was denied him,” the source said. “He cannot surprise the IDF at the line of contact. At the same time, the IDF is planning a strong and multi-layered line of fortifications to deny its [Hezbollah] capabilities in the future. It will not be the same border after what we saw happen at the border of the Gaza Strip. It will be a different border.”

Hezbollah has named 124 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 16 Palestinian terror operatives, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 17 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

An Israeli artillery unit fires from a position in Upper Galilee in northern Israel towards southern Lebanon, on December 11, 2023 (Photo by jalaa marey / AFP)

Israel has increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah, which like Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction, away from its border through diplomatic means, it will take action.

Since hostilities began in October, four civilians and eight soldiers have been killed on the Israeli side, including a soldier who was killed in a rocket barrage Friday. Another IDF soldier was seriously injured in the attack.

The community manager of Kibbutz Manara, close to the border with Lebanon, said Sunday that 86 houses in the community had been damaged by rocket and missile fire from Hezbollah.

Some of the homes were “completely destroyed and some [are] only with shattered windows,” Yochai Wolfin told the Kan public broadcaster, noting that the kibbutz has been largely evacuated of civilians.

“The kibbutz has been hit a number of times and the damage is serious,” he said. “We want to return home and we are waiting for deterrence to be restored to the northern border.”

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appeared to push back against comments from Economy Minister Nir Barkat, as well as media reports that US President Joe Biden had talked him out of a preemptive strike on the Hezbollah terror organization two months ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Israel had warplanes in the air ready to carry out a major preemptive strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon four days after Hamas’s October 7 terror onslaught, but Biden convinced Netanyahu to stand down at the last minute.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, chairs a cabinet meeting at the Kirya military base in Tel Aviv, December 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Reading from prepared remarks at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said he had spoken to Biden the day before and expressed appreciation for the US stance at the United Nations Security Council after its work to soften a resolution on the Gaza fighting.

“There have been reports that US has prevented, and is preventing, us from carrying out operations in the region. This is not true. Israel is a sovereign country. Our decisions on the war are based on our operational considerations, and not external pressures,” he said.

The comments appeared to be a response to reports over the weekend, and comments by Barkat, seen as a future rival to Netanyahu for the role of Likud leader.

Earlier, Barkat said, “Surrendering to any external pressure, even if it is from our best friends, is a grave mistake for which we are paying a heavy price,” according to Channel 12 news.

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