Escalation ends, but Israel and Hezbollah tensions remain


Avivim (Israel)

An escalation between Israel and Hezbollah has ended after a brief exchange of fire, but tensions remained high along the Lebanese border Monday after the enemies traded accusations.
Residents returned to life as normal on both sides of the border, though burnt fields could be seen and the Israeli military had established new checkpoints.
Schools were open in the Israeli village of Avivim, from which the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras is clearly visible on a nearby hill.
“The war can start in a minute. I am worried it could happen,” said Dudu Peretz, 35, as he dropped his son off at kindergarten.
In southern Lebanon, farmers returned to their fields and the United Nations force charged with monitoring the border area resumed its patrols, an AFP journalist said.
“We’re used to this kind of thing,” said Ali al-Safari, a resident of Bint Jbeil on the Lebanese side of the border.”We remain determined and calm,” he added.
Sunday’s incident, which caused no casualties, followed a week of rising tensions that included what Hezbollah described as an Israeli drone attack on its Beirut stronghold on August 25.
Israel has not acknowledged that attack but subsequently accused the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement of working with Tehran to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil.
Hezbollah had warned of retaliation, and on Sunday it fired up to three anti-tank missiles from Lebanon at an Israeli battalion headquarters near Avivim and at a vehicle Israel said was a military ambulance.
Israel retaliated with around 100 artillery shells targeting the squad that fired the missiles.
Hezbollah issued a statement soon afterwards saying it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside.
Israel’s military later refuted the claim, saying nobody was wounded.
But Israeli media have reported that the military staged an evacuation of two supposedly injured soldiers, who were not in fact wounded, in order to deescalate the situation.
Some Israeli newspapers ran photos showing the soldiers with allegedly fake injuries being evacuated.
They said the thinking was that Hezbollah could feel it achieved revenge with casualties but would also expect a blistering Israeli response, meaning it would stop its assault.
Israel’s military declined to comment.
It appeared neither side wanted a prolonged escalation.
After the exchange of fire began, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene.
The UN called for restraint and France said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert further fire.
The United States voiced concern, slamming the “destabilising role” of Iranian allies in the Middle East and saying it “fully supports Israel’s right to self defence”. The organisation’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday his movement had decided to respond to the alleged Israeli drone attack. —AFP