Israel strikes deeper into Lebanon as Hezbollah downs drone

By Thomson Reuters Feb 26, 2024 | 4:52 AM

BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel mounted airstrikes west of the Lebanese city of Baalbek on Monday, killing at least two Hezbollah members, sources in Lebanon said, in its deepest attack yet into Lebanon since hostilities erupted with the Iran-backed group last October.

The Israeli military said it was striking Hezbollah targets deep inside Lebanon but provided no further details. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.

The strikes hit an area some 18 km (11 miles) from the city of Baalbek, which is known for its ancient ruins, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Part of the Bekaa Valley region bordering Syria, the area is a political stronghold of the Shi’ite group Hezbollah. The sources said Israel had carried out two simultaneous strikes.

Lebanese television station Al-Jadeed broadcast images of plumes of smoke rising from the area.

Hezbollah has been waging attacks on Israeli positions at the Lebanese-Israeli frontier since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by its Palestinian ally Hamas, in what it has described as a campaign to support Palestinians under fire in the Gaza Strip.

Hezbollah said earlier on Monday it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone over Lebanese territory using a surface-to-air missile, the second time it has announced a downing of this type of unmanned aerial vehicle.

The Israeli military said that two missile launches had targeted an Israeli Air Force UAV operating over Lebanon. The first, it said, was intercepted by Israel’s “David’s Sling” Aerial Defense System but the drone “fell inside Lebanese territory” after a second launch.

The hostilities, which have mostly played out in areas near the Lebanese-Israeli border, widened last week with Israel striking an area just south of the coastal city of Sidon.

It has marked the worst violence between Israel and Hezbollah since the 2006 war.

Israeli strikes since October have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to some 200 Hezbollah fighters.

Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers troops and five civilians.

The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

(Reporting by Maya Gebeily and Laila Bassam in Beirut and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Angus MacSwan)