Israeli forces exchanged fire with Hezbollah fighters on the volatile Israeli-Lebanese border on Monday, the heaviest battle between fierce enemies in nearly a year.
Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said troops had stopped Hezbollah’s attack by three or four men penetrating a few meters above the Blue Line, which demarcated Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
There were no casualties among Israeli forces, Adray said.
Hezbollah conducted an operation against Israeli troops in the disputed Sheba region, Reuters quoted unnamed sources familiar with the situation,,
The raid came in retaliation after an airstrike in Israel near the Syrian capital, Damascus, killed a Hezbollah fighter jet last week, sources said.
Residents in the area have been ordered to stay in their homes and “any activity in open areas is prohibited,”
There was no immediate statement from Hezbollah.
A resident of the city of Hiam, about five kilometers (two miles) from the southern border of Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that he heard about two dozen explosions and witnessed large columns of smoke rising near Mount Hermon.
Andrea Tenenti, a spokeswoman for the UN peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon (UNIFIL), said her commander, Major General Stefano Del Cole, “is in contact with both sides to assess the situation and reduce tensions”.
“He insists on maximum restraint,” Tenenti told Al Jazeera.
Air strike in Syria
Tensions have risen along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon and Syria, including the occupied Golan Heights, after a Hezbollah fighter jet was killed in an apparent Israeli airstrike on the outskirts of Damascus last Monday.
Speaking in parliament, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the government was closely monitoring developments in the north.
Smoke is rising over Lebanon’s southern border area following a reported “security incident” following a week of high tensions between Israel and #Hezbollah. https://t.co/7I8x8ct43v
– Timur Azhari (@timourazhari) July 27, 2020
“The military is prepared for any scenario,” he said. “We work in all arenas for Israel’s defense – close to our borders and far from our borders.
“Lebanon and Hezbollah will be responsible for any attack from Lebanese territory.”
Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Ganz cut short briefings in parliament to meet with military commanders at army headquarters in Tel Aviv.
The Shebaa region was taken over by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war and claimed by Lebanon.
Following the killing of two Hezbollah members in Syria last August, the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed to respond if Israel kills more of its fighters in the country.
Hezbollah has deployed fighters in Syria as part of an Iranian-backed effort to support President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s nine-year conflict.
Israel sees the presence of Hezbollah and its ally Iran in Syria as a strategic threat and has mounted hundreds of airstrikes on Iran-related targets.
The last exchange of fire between Hezbollah and Israel took place in September 2019, when a Lebanese armed group fired rockets across the southern border with an Israeli vehicle, and Israel responded by firing on border areas. There were no confirmed casualties.
The attack came in response to an Israeli drone attack on the southern suburbs of Beirut, a Hezbollah stronghold.
Israel and Hezbollah fought at a standstill in a month-long war in Lebanon in 2006.
Hezbollah has managed to overcome Israel’s ground invasion of southern Lebanon and attack military and civilian targets, undermining support for the war in Israel.
Timur Azhari of Al Jazeera contributed to this report from Beirut
Al Jazeera and news agencies