Report: Israel launches artillery shells into disputed land on Lebanese border

IDF confirms its activities sparked fires near disputed Mount Dov area; Lebanese army says Israeli drone also dropped incendiary bombs nearby

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Smoke rises from a fire sparked by Israel near the contested Mount Dov area along the Israel-Lebanon border on September 1, 2019. (Twitter)
Smoke rises from a fire sparked by Israel near the contested Mount Dov area along the Israel-Lebanon border on September 1, 2019. (Twitter)

The Israeli military fired artillery shells into a disputed portion of land on the Lebanese border on Sunday, amid soaring tensions along the frontier, a Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet reported.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed conducting “activities” in northern Israel, which sparked a fire near the border, but refused to comment on the nature of those actions.

According to Hezbollah’s Al-Manar news outlet, the IDF fired the shells into the hills outside of the village of Kfar Chouba, next to a contested area along the border, known in Israel as Mount Dov and in Lebanon as Shebaa Farms.

The Lebanese Armed Forces said in a statement that an Israeli drone also dropped an incendiary device nearby, sparking a small fire that was extinguished by residents of the area.

Al-Manar also shared photographs of artillery shells it said were fired by the IDF into the area.

Residents of northern Israel reported seeing increased military activity in the area on Sunday morning, with soldiers establishing roadblocks along local highways and large numbers of aircraft flying overhead.

An artillery shell reportedly fired by Israel into the contested Mount Dov area along the Israel-Lebanon border on September 1, 2019. (Twitter)

The IDF has been on high alert along the Lebanese border over the past week as tensions with Hezbollah and its patron Iran have soared, after the IDF last Saturday night detected an attempt by Iranian operatives — including two Hezbollah members — in Syria to carry out an attack on northern Israel with armed drones and attacked their base, and a drone attack in Beirut reportedly destroyed key components of a joint Hezbollah-Iran project to manufacture precision-guided missiles in Lebanon, which has been attributed to Israel.

On Saturday night, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah threatened that a Lebanese response to last week’s events could strike anywhere along the border, including Mount Dov, the site of a reprisal attack by Hezbollah in 2015 after several senior members of the group were killed in an airstrike attributed to Israel. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in the retaliatory strike and seven were injured.

Mount Dov and the adjacent Kfar Chouba hills are small patches of land captured by Israel from Syria during the Six Day War in 1967 and kept under Israel’s control since. Lebanon maintains that the strip of land is its territory, though it was under Syrian control from the 1950s until it was captured in 1967 along with the Golan Heights.

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

Israeli soldiers stand next to a self-propelled artillery gun near the Lebanese border outside the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shemona on August 31, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)

In light of the terror group’s threats, the Israeli military canceled a major exercise planned for this week, restricted soldiers’ movements in vulnerable areas, canceled weekend leave for troops in the IDF Northern Command and reportedly sent artillery and other heavy equipment to the Lebanese border in recent days.

“In the past week, IDF troops — including ground, air, naval and intelligence forces — have improved their preparedness for a variety of scenarios in the area of the Northern Command and the Galilee Division,” the army said in a statement.

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi also ordered IDF Spokesperson Ronen Manelis, who was due to finish his tenure this week, to remain in his position for the time being in light of the heightened tensions.

The army said Manelis’s successor — Brig. Gen. Hidai Zilberman — will take over the role at another time.

On Saturday night, the Iran-backed terror group released a new Hebrew-language video threatening to attack northern Israel, using portions of a speech made by Nasrallah following last week’s attacks and video footage apparently filmed along the border.

A speech by Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is transmitted on a large screen in the Lebanese capital Beirut’s southern suburbs on August 31, 2019. (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)

“I am telling residents of the north and residents of all of occupied Palestine: do not rest, do not relax for a second,” the terrorist leader shouts in Arabic with Hebrew subtitles, over images of northern Israeli towns.

Earlier on Saturday, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that a flare launched by Israel operating along the border had fallen in a UNIFIL base inside Lebanon, causing a fire to break out. There were no injuries.

The Lebanese news agency also reported that several explosions were heard along the border and that an additional fire had broken out the Israeli side of the border near Mount Dov. Responding to a query on the matter, the army said that the fire had been started by IDF activity in the area and that the blaze had been contained.

The army refused to comment on the nature of this activity.

On Friday, Kohavi toured the border a day after the army canceled leave for combat soldiers in the area, and the head of the IDF Northern Command warned Israel would offer a “harsh” response to any Hezbollah attack.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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