The exchange of artillery fire at the southern border between Hezbollah and Israeli forces on Sunday morning has raised real concerns about the possibility of Hezbollah’s involvement in the ongoing military conflict between Hamas and Israel in Gaza, through the opening of a new front. The head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, echoed this fear on Saturday, when Hamas attacked Israeli Kibbutz.

However, according to corroborating sources, the tension that prevailed following this escalation seems, so far, to be limited in time and space.

The Israeli forces have informed UNIFIL that they do not want an escalation and that they have confined themselves to “bombing open areas” in Shebaa in response to Hezbollah’s morning fire. They targeted an empty tent, set up in the area, belonging to the Shiite group. Hezbollah quickly set up another tent. A shell also fell in Khiam, a village on the border with southern Lebanon.

On the other hand, Hezbollah says that it remains on the alert, without giving more details. According to sources close to the pro-Iranian group, this morning’s shootings appear to be a “direct” message to the Israelis, without the group taking the risk of dragging Lebanon into an armed conflict with Tel Aviv.

Map of northern Israel and southern Lebanon showing the area known as the farms of Shebba. / AFP / Aude GENET

The choice of Shebaa and Kfarchouba, an area occupied by Israel and which is the subject of a border dispute between Lebanon and Israel, was deliberate in order to avoid embarrassing the Lebanese authorities, according to the same source.

Early on Sunday morning, heavy shellfire was fired from Shebaa and Kfarchouba towards Israeli territory.

In a statement, the “Islamic Resistance,” the armed wing of Hezbollah, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that units from the forces of Imad Moghniyeh (a senior Hezbollah military officer killed in an Israeli raid in Damascus in 2008) “attacked three Israeli military positions in the Shebaa area, Radar, Zebdine and Roueissate el-Alam.” According to the text, “Several bursts of shells were fired in the direction of the three positions, which were directly hit.”

Israeli soldiers posted on the other side of the border reacted immediately, shelling the sources of the fire. They then announced that they had shot down a Hezbollah drone.

Two people were slightly injured in Kfarchouba and were taken to the government hospital in Marjeyoun.

Two hours later, two shells were fired again towards Israeli territory from Shebaa, also leading to an Israeli response.

“We recommend that Hezbollah does not intervene. If it does, we are ready”, warned Israeli army spokesman Richard Hecht.

This increase in tension at the border has prompted residents of some Lebanese villages to travel to Beirut for fear of an escalation, according to Houna Loubnan.

For its part, the army, which reported the morning exchange of artillery fire, announced in a press release that its units had been deployed all along the border since Saturday. “They are on permanent patrol in the sector. They are closely monitoring the situation on the ground, in coordination with the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon”, the statement said.

The United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon (UNSCOL), Joanna Wronecka, and the UNIFIL spokesperson, Andrea Tenenti, called for restraint.

Wronecka insisted on the need for “respect for the cessation of hostilities and Security Council Resolution 1701.”

Tenenti announced that the UNIFIL command had contacted both parties to avoid any escalation.

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