The Lebanese Hezbollah militia fired a volley of rockets at a small military base in northern Israel on Saturday morning, in what the group said was an initial response to the assassination of a top Hamas commander in Lebanon five days ago. which has raised fears of a broader war. conflagration.
Hezbollah said in a statement that the attacks had caused casualties, but there were no immediate Israeli reports of injuries and analysts initially perceived the attack as more of a symbolic response to the killing than a significant escalation.
The Israeli military said in a statement that approximately 40 rockets had been fired from Lebanon toward Mount Meron, an area hosting a military radar station that is located approximately five miles south of the Israel-Lebanon border. The military said it had responded by attacking a militant group in Lebanon that had been involved in rocket fire.
Hezbollah could still respond with a more forceful attack, while Hamas has not retaliated for the assassination of top commander Saleh al-Arouri. Al-Arouri was killed on Tuesday in Beirut in an attack attributed by Hamas and Hezbollah to Israel. Lebanese and American officials have also attributed the attack to Israel, although Israel has not confirmed this.
At least for now, the limited nature of Saturday’s exchange tempered fears that al-Arouri’s assassination would immediately lead to a major escalation between Hezbollah and Israel.
The exchange came as Antony J. Blinken, the US secretary of state, and Josep Borrell Fontelles, the European Union’s top diplomat, separately visited the region in an effort to reduce the risk of a regional war breaking out.
Hamas attacked Israel from Gaza on October 7, prompting Israel to respond in Gaza with one of the deadliest military campaigns of this century. At the same time, Israel has been involved in a second low-level conflict with Hezbollah, a Hamas ally and Iran’s proxy.
That second front has been largely contained within the border areas of northern Israel and southern Lebanon, and both sides have generally limited their attacks to a few kilometers from the border, far from major cities like Tel Aviv or Beirut.
But the killing of al-Arouri, in a building deep in a Hezbollah stronghold south of Beirut, raised fears that Hezbollah could respond with a more forceful attack on major cities in central Israel.
Blinken was in Turkey on Saturday morning, while Borrell visited Lebanon, where he said his priority was “avoiding regional escalation and advancing diplomatic efforts” for peace in the region.
Euan Ward contributed reporting from Beirut, Lebanon.