BEIRUT: Hezbollah denied exchanging fire with Israeli soldiers on the border or trying to infiltrate into an occupied stategic plateau Monday, but vowed to avenge the killing of a fighter in Damascus last week.
The party said in a statement that the firing came from only one source, the Israeli Army, adding that it was the result of tension and confusion among its forces.
“[Hezbollah] affirms that there has been no clash or shooting on its part in the events of the day until now. Rather, it was only one party, which was the fearful, anxious and tense enemy,” the statement said.
“All the enemy media claims about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanese territory into occupied Palestine ... that took place in the vicinity of the occupied Shebaa Farms is absolutely not true, but rather an attempt to invent false victories,” the statement added.
Shortly after Hezbollah statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted the group had carried out an infiltration attempt in the Shebaa Farms region adjoining the Golan Heights
"We take a grave view of this attempt to infiltrate our territory. Hezbollah and Lebanon bear full responsibility for this incident and any attack from Lebanese territory against Israel. Hezbollah should know that it is playing with fire," he said.
He was sitting alongside Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who warned that any operation against Israel would draw a powerful Israeli response.
Tensions have come to a head on Israel's northern border with Syria and Lebanon after Hezbollah said a fighter, identified as Ali Kamel Mohsen, had been killed in an Israeli strike on the edge of Damascus on July 20.
“Our response to the martyrdom of ... Ali Kamel Mohsen, who was killed in a Zionist aggression on the outskirts of Damascus International Airport, is definitely coming, and the Zionists only have to wait for the punishment for their crimes,” Hezbollah vowed.
The statement added that the shelling which took place earlier in the day on the village of Habaria “will not be tolerated. The shelling had reportedly “resulted in damage to a civilian’s house.”
This news comes after numerous reports that Hezbollah fighters carried out an operation in the occupied Shebaa Farms Monday, sparking heavy clashes in the area.
A Lebanese security source said fighters fired a guided anti-tank missile, triggering an exchange of fire. Israel responded by shelling the hills surrounding the area. Hezbollah fired at Israeli military posts in an attempt to allow its fighters to retreat, the source said, while Israeli aircraft flew over the area.
An Israeli military spokesperson acknowledged that Israeli troops had "thwarted an infiltration attempt by a Hezbollah terror squad," although he also told reporters that he was unaware of any attack on an Israeli tank. According to the spokesperson, there were no Israeli casualties.
Israeli media was quoted as saying that a Hezbollah cell had been “neutralized.” The Lebanese Army was not available for immediate comment.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a televised news conference that Israel was “prepared for all scenarios,” adding that the military operates “in all the arenas of Israel’s defense.”
The Israeli military had earlier ordered residents in the area to remain indoors. It later ordered a lockdown of the Golan Heights, although this was subsequently lifted.
UNIFIL force commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col is currently in contact with both parties to “assess the situation and decrease tension,” a UNIFIL spokesperson said, calling also for "maximum restraint." The spokesperson later said UNIFIL was investigating the incident.
After two Hezbollah members were killed in Damascus in Aug. 2019, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the party would respond if Israel killed more of its fighters inside Syria.
Lebanon fears for its claim to the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba hills, which had been captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War. Despite its withdrawal from most of south Lebanon in 2000, ending an 18-year occupation, Israel remains in these strategic areas as well as the northern half of the village of Ghajar.