French FM warns Lebanon 'the Israelis might launch a war'

Two soldiers lightly injured as several rounds of rocket fire hit north

Warning sirens sound in Rosh Hanikra, Margaliot, Misgav Am, no reports of injuries; IDF punches back with strikes on Hezbollah targets; Lebanese FM says army can’t hold border

Israeli reserve soldiers take part in a military drill in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, January 24, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)
Israeli reserve soldiers take part in a military drill in the Golan Heights, northern Israel, January 24, 2024. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Sporadic rocket fire from Lebanon set off alert sirens in the north Tuesday with the Hezbollah terror group taking responsibility for a missile that lightly injured two soldiers.

The border area has become increasingly volatile, with Hezbollah carrying out daily missile, rocket, and drone attacks on northern Israel amid the war in Gaza in the south.

The Israel Defense Forces said the pair of soldiers were hurt in an area near the community of Margaliot. They were taken to the hospital for treatment and were expected to be released later in the day.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack at around 8 a.m., saying it targeted a military position.

The Iran-backed group also claimed additional missile and rocket attacks against army positions near Rosh Hanikra and Margaliot. Sirens were heard twice in Rosh Hanikaa during the morning. Later in the day, sirens went off in Misgav Am.

There were no reports of other injuries.

The IDF said in a statement that it shelled the launch sites and carried out additional airstrikes against Hezbollah targets, following up on strikes it made overnight.

Fighter jets hit a building used by Hezbollah in the village of Marwahin, and overnight hit another site belonging to the terror group in Mays al-Jabal, the IDF said.

It said it also used artillery to shell areas in southern Lebanon to “remove threats.”

The towns close to the northern border have been largely evacuated of civilians since October 8, when Hezbollah-led forces began launching daily attacks on Israeli communities and military posts along the border. Hezbollah  says it is acting in support of Gaza where the IDF is warring with Palestinian terror group Hamas.

The war erupted on October 7 when Hamas led a cross-border attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Some 3,000 attackers invaded southern areas, slaughtering those they found, and abducted 253 people as hostages into Gaza, where over half remain captive.

Israel responded with an air, sea, and ground offensive to destroy Hamas, remove it from power in Gaza, and release the hostages.

The northern attacks came as France’s top diplomat warned officials during a Beirut visit that Israel is threatening to wage war on its northern neighbor to return citizens displaced by cross-border fire, Lebanon’s interim foreign minister said.

French Foreign Minister Stephane Sejourne “warned us that the Israelis might launch a war, which they say would be to return” displaced citizens to their homes, Abdallah Bou Habib told reporters after meeting his French counterpart.

“We told the French that we do not want a war” with Israel, Bou Habib said, adding that Beirut sought “a border deal with them” facilitated by the United Nations, France and the United States.

Sejourne met caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, army chief Joseph Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally, as part of his first regional tour since taking office.

In Jerusalem on Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Sejourne that “time is running out” to reach a diplomatic solution in south Lebanon.

Sejourne is the latest in a succession of Western ministers to visit Beirut amid concerns the Gaza war could spark a wider conflict involving Iranian allies around the Middle East.

Bou Habib said in a separate interview that the Lebanese army does not have the capacity to deploy on the border with Israel, Al Arabiya reported.

Bou Habib cited “a shortage of equipment” as the reason for his opposition to the idea, which is reportedly part of the diplomatic solution the US is pushing to keep the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah from expanding into a full-blown war.

The plan, according to Hebrew media reports, would see Hezbollah withdraw 8-10 kilometers from the border and have UN and Lebanese forces move into the area in greater numbers.

Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib arrives to attend an Arab foreign ministers meeting at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, Egypt, October 11, 2023. (Amr Nabil/AP)

Bou Habib said that he is against the withdrawal of Hezbollah to the Litani River, as Israel has demanded, “as this will lead to the renewal of war.”

The foreign minister has said that he is against “partial solutions” and will only accept a final settlement with Israel that solves all border disputes.

Israel and Lebanon never agreed on a land border, following Israel’s withdrawal from south Lebanon in 2000, keeping to a UN-enforced ceasefire “Blue Line” instead.

Hezbollah is widely considered to have more military might than Lebanon’s regular army.

US special envoy Amos Hochstein was in Israel over the weekend to discuss an emerging diplomatic solution with Israeli officials.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in the region hoping to secure at least a temporary ceasefire in Gaza and to prevent the conflict there from spilling across the Middle East.

Top Israeli officials have repeatedly threatened to go to war in Lebanon after the campaign to root out Hamas in Gaza is over, 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. They have increasingly warned that if the international community does not push Hezbollah — which, like Hamas, is sworn to Israel’s destruction — away from the border through diplomatic means, Israel will take action.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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