'Dozens of aircraft now operating in Lebanese skies'

Top Hezbollah commander hit in apparent Israeli strike as air force head threatens more

Mixed reports on condition of Abbas Al-Debes and other member of Iran-backed terror group after car they were riding in was struck, following missile attack that hurt 3 IDF troops

A burning car is seen in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh after it was struck in a reported Israeli airstrike on February 8, 2024. (Screenshot from X used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
A burning car is seen in the southern Lebanese town of Nabatieh after it was struck in a reported Israeli airstrike on February 8, 2024. (Screenshot from X used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

An apparent Israeli drone strike Thursday in southern Lebanon targeted two Hezbollah operatives, reportedly including a senior commander in the Lebanese terror group, following repeated missile attacks that left three IDF soldiers wounded — one seriously — and damaged a house near the border.

As a rash of cross-border attacks throughout the day kept tensions at the border high, Israel’s air force chief threatened that hundreds of attack aircraft could be flown into Lebanon at a moment’s notice.

Video from the Lebanese town of Nabatieh, some 11 kilometers (7 miles) from Israel’s northern border, showed a car in flames after it was apparently struck from the air.

One clip appeared to show the moment the car was hit.

There was conflicting information about the Hezbollah members’ condition after the apparent strike, with some reports saying one or both of them were killed. But a Lebanese security source told AFP that a senior operative was “seriously wounded and a companion was also injured.”

Sky News Arabic identified the high-ranking Hezbollah member as Abbas Al-Debes, while the other was not immediately named.

According to Arabic media reports, Al-Debes was tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and was helping Iran set up air defenses in Syria.

Hebrew media outlets said Al-Debes was also Hezbollah’s regional commander of the area from which an anti-tank missile was fired earlier Thursday at a base near Kiryat Shmona, seriously wounding a non-commissioned officer and lightly hurting two other soldiers.

There was no direct comment from Hezbollah or the Israel Defense Forces on Al-Debes, though the latter issued a statement saying it carried out a new wave of strikes on Hezbollah targets on Thursday, including on a building used by the Iran-backed terror group and other infrastructure in the towns of Khiam, Nabatieh and Kfar Hamam.

This picture taken from a position near the border in northern Israel shows smoke billowing during Israeli bombardment on the village of Khiyam in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

The military said fighter jets also struck a Hezbollah truck ferrying weapons.

The strikes came as Israeli Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar warned Hezbollah that Israel was prepared to significantly ratchet up its strikes against the terror group.

“Hezbollah will continue to pay with the loss of its systems. Dozens of aircraft are now operating in the skies of southern Lebanon, and as soon as the order is given, the dozens will turn into hundreds that will perform the missions within minutes of being scrambled,” Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar said at an internal IAF conference, according to a transcript published by the IDF.

Along with the attack on the base near Kiryat Shmona, Hezbollah launched several other projectiles toward Israel on Thursday, one of which hit a home in the border town of Metula. There were no casualties in the incident.

The IDF said it shelled the launch sites with artillery.

The military also said air defenses intercepted a “suspicious aerial target” that entered Israeli airspace earlier in the day, setting off drone infiltration alarms in a number of towns.

Hezbollah-led forces have been attacking Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis since October 8, a day after its ally, Palestinian terror group Hamas, launched its October 7 massacre, killing 1,200 people across southern Israel and abducting 253 people. Hezbollah says its attacks are to support Gaza amid the war Hamas triggered.

This picture taken from the vicinity of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon on February 8, 2024 shows a rocket fired from above nearby Kafarshouba being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome. (Rabih Daher/AFP)

The fighting has displaced tens of thousands of people from border communities in northern Israel.

Top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go to war in Lebanon following the campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza, with the aim of driving Hezbollah away from the border in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

Earlier Thursday, the army said the 36th Division had pulled out of Gaza and was immediately deployed “to deepen its readiness for operational plans against the northern enemy,” likely a reference to Hezbollah.

Israel has said it cannot tolerate Hezbollah forces along its border, where they could launch a murderous attack on civilians in a similar vein to Hamas’s October 7 onslaught.

It has increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah away from the border through diplomatic means, Israel will take action.

Due to the concerns of another war between Israel and Hezbollah, Lebanese officials said Thursday that foreign diplomats have intensified their efforts to restore calm to the volatile Lebanon-Israel border in parallel with the ongoing negotiations for a hostage deal and accompanying truce in Gaza.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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