Thursday 19 September 2019

Lebanon president labels Israeli drone strikes 'declaration of war'

A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces said:
A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces said: "Israel does not comment on foreign reports." (stock image)

Leila Molana-Allen

Israeli jets reportedly struck a Palestinian fighter base in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley early yesterday as the Lebanese president described earlier Israeli drone strikes as a "declaration of war".

Officials confirmed three rockets struck a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine base in Qusaya, causing damage but no fatalities. The area is known to have a network of cross-border underground tunnels often used by Iranian-backed groups.

The strike came amid heightened tensions after two drones crashed in the Hizbollah-dominated Beirut suburb of Dahieh on Sunday. One exploded, causing severe damage to Hizbollah's media centre and wounding three members. Hizbollah says it has identified the drones as Israeli.

Hassan Nasrallah, Hizbollah chief, gave a theatrical speech on Sunday, warning: "From tonight, I tell the Israeli army on the border, wait for our response, which may take place at any time... Be prepared and wait for us."

If Israel is responsible, the attacks mark the most serious Israeli incursion into Lebanese territory since the 2006 war, in which 1,200 Lebanese and 158 Israelis were killed.

"What happened was similar to a declaration of war which allows us to resort to our right to defending our sovereignty," Michel Aoun, the Lebanese president, wrote on Twitter.

He met Lebanon's UN special co-ordinator yesterday but other Lebanese leaders seem keen to find a diplomatic resolution.

"The Lebanese government sees it best to avoid any sliding of the situation towards a dangerous escalation," Saad Hariri, the prime minister, told ambassadors of the UN Security Council.

A source inside the Lebanese Armed Forces told 'The Telegraph' there would be no official statement as it was their judgment that the strike took place in Syria, as Qusaya lies directly on Lebanon's border. The assessment that the attack was in Syria may be a further attempt to de-escalate the situation.

A spokesman for the Israeli Defence Forces said: "Israel does not comment on foreign reports."

Experts in the region, however, say the border strike fits Israel's pattern. While the group attacked was Palestinian, the strike appears to be part of Israel's escalating conflict with Iran. This particular branch of the PLFP is a splinter group that has been controlled by Iran since 2014.

Irish Independent

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