Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah exchanged fire with the Israeli army along the volatile border Sunday, fulfilling a vow to avenge Israeli strikes but stopping short of a major escalation.
The shelling had subsided within hours with no casualties and the threat of immediate escalation into full-blown war appeared to have subsided by nightfall.
The Iranian-backed Hezbollah said it destroyed a military vehicle, according to Al Manar, the group’s official television channel. Israel’s army confirmed “a number of hits” on a base straddling its northern border and said it responded by firing more than 100 shells into southern Lebanon, but “the tactical events on the ground” were over.
In a televised address to the Israeli public, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his next steps would depend on further developments.
“We are consulting about the next steps. I have ordered that we be prepared for any scenario,” Netanyahu said. “At this time I have an important announcement: We have no casualties — not even a scratch.”
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said last week that his group would hit back after an apparent Israeli attack killed three of the group’s operatives in nearby Syria. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri asked the U.S. and France to help defuse tension on the border, the country’s state-run news agency reported.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006 that killed more than 1,000 people, caused tremendous damage to Lebanon’s infrastructure and economy, and paralyzed life in northern Israel.
On Sunday, Israel struck the south Lebanese village of Maroun al Ras and the sound of shelling could be heard in nearby towns including Bint Jbeil, a Hezbollah stronghold. Long lines snaked around gasoline stations in some parts of southern Lebanon and residents rushed to stock up on groceries and water, fearing a repeat of the 2006 war. Cars jammed the main highway to Beirut as some residents sought to leave the area. Israel told northern residents to be on alert and open shelters.
Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the strategic threat from Hezbollah’s stockpile of precision-guided missiles in Lebanon remained though the immediate fighting was over.
“We remain alert,” he told reporters in a telephone briefing.
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