WORLD

Israeli airstrikes killed 10 Lebanese civilians in a single day. Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate

Feb 14, 2024, 11:28 PM | Updated: Feb 15, 2024, 9:08 am

NABATIYEH, Lebanon (AP) — The civilian death toll from two Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon has risen to 10, Lebanese state media reported Thursday, making the previous day the deadliest in more than four months of cross-border exchanges.

Israel’s military said it killed a senior commander with the militant Hezbollah group’s elite Radwan Force, Ali Dibs, who it says played a role in an attack inside Israel last year that unnerved Israelis, as well as other attacks directed at Israel over the past four months. It said Dibs was killed Wednesday along with his deputy Hassan Ibrahim Issa, as well as another Hezbollah operative, in a strike in the southern city of Nabatiyeh.

Hezbollah confirmed three of its fighters were killed and released photos of Dibs and Issa without giving information about their roles in the group. A Lebanese security official said Dibs escaped a drone strike in Nabatiyeh last week. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate for Wednesday’s strikes, which hit Nabatiyeh and a village in southern Lebanon, just hours after projectiles from Lebanon killed an Israeli soldier.

On Thursday evening, Hezbollah said it carried out its “initial response” by firing “tens of Katyusha rockets” on the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona. There was no immediate word on casualties from the town, where most residents have joined the tens of thousands who have fled the area since the fighting began in October.

More Israeli strikes were reported in south Lebanon on Thursday and Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati condemned the escalation.

“At a time when we are insisting on calm and call on all sides not to escalate, we find the Israeli enemy extending its aggression,” read a statement from his office.

The Israeli military said Thursday’s strikes targeted Hezbollah infrastructure and launch posts. Lebanese state media said Israel’s air force carried out strikes near the border towns of Labbouneh, Wadi Slouqi, Majdal Selm and Houla, according to the Lebanese state-run National News Agency, or NNA.

The Israeli army would continue to respond to Hezbollah’s regular attacks, said spokesperson Avi Hyman from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office. “Our message to Hezbollah has and always will be: Don’t try us.”

The U.N. peacekeeping force deployed along the Lebanon-Israel border, known as UNIFIL, expressed concerns over the latest “exchanges of fire,” and urged all sides involved to halt hostilities to prevent further escalation.

“Attacks targeting civilians are violations of international law and constitute war crimes,” UNIFIL’s spokesman Andrea Tenenti said in a statement. “The devastation, loss of life, and injuries witnessed are deeply concerning.”

In Nabatiyeh, the strike demolished part of a building, killing seven members of the same family, including a child, the NNA said. A boy initially reported missing was found alive under the rubble. First reports had said four people were killed.

Hussein Badir, a neighbor of the Berjawi family that was killed in the strike, said he and other neighbors had rushed to the street to dig through the rubble. He said the family was “decent and respectable” and “not involved in anything.”

For Badir, the strike brought back memories of Israeli bombardment during its 2006 war with Hezbollah and also during a 1996 offensive.

“Nobody is doing anything to help us,” he said. “It’s our right to defend ourselves in our country in Lebanon.”

In the village of Souaneh, a woman and two young children were killed. The Lebanese civilian death toll included six women and three children as well as the three Hezbollah fighters.

Amal Atwi, whose son was killed in Souaneh, said martyrdom has become a way of life in southern Lebanon. “He’s my only son and I have no one else,” she said. “Let Israel take as much as they want, and we have more to give. Let’s see who will get tired first. It will be them, not us.”

Earlier Wednesday, the fire from Lebanon struck the northern Israeli town of Safed, killing a female Israeli soldier and wounding eight others, all soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

Hezbollah did not claim the strike in Safed. On Thursday, the group said its fighters attacked four Israeli posts along the border.

Senior Hezbollah official Sheikh Nabil Kaouk said at an event Thursday in southern Lebanon that the militant group was “prepared for the possibility of expanding the war” and would meet “escalation with escalation, displacement with displacement, and destruction with destruction.”

The fatalities marked a significant escalation in more than four months of daily cross-border exchanges triggered by the Oct. 7 outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war in Gaza. The war began with the surprise attack in southern Israel by the Palestinian militant group Hamas, an ally of Hezbollah.

Government institutions, schools and Lebanese University were to close on Thursday in protest of the airstrikes.

___

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Abby Sewell and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut and Melanie Lidman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Israeli airstrikes killed 10 Lebanese civilians in a single day. Hezbollah has vowed to retaliate