BEIRUT (Reuters) -Israel and Lebanon’s powerful armed group Hezbollah exchanged artillery and rocket fire on Sunday following the deadliest attack in years by Palestinian gunmen on Israel.
On Saturday, a multi-pronged attack by Palestinian gunmen on Israeli towns left around 500 Israelis dead, with more than 300 Palestinians killed in Israel’s retaliatory bombardment.
The scale of the attack prompted fears that a wider conflict could break out between Israel and other factions opposed to it in the region, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an armed party backed by Iran that has previously clashed with Israel.
Hezbollah on Sunday said it had launched guided rockets and artillery onto three posts in the Shebaa Farms “in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.
“Our history, our guns and our rockets are with you,” said senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine at an event in the Hezbollah stronghold of Dahieh on Beirut’s outskirts in solidarity with the Palestinian fighters.
The Lebanese army said shells and rockets had been launched from southern Lebanon onto “occupied Lebanese territory,” without saying who was responsible, and that returning Israeli fire had left several people wounded.
The statement, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, said army units had deployed along the southern border.
Israel has held the Shebaa Farms, a 15-square-mile (39-square-km) patch of land, since 1967. Both Syria and Lebanon claim the Shebaa Farms are Lebanese.
The Israeli military was on high alert throughout Sunday and said it fired artillery into an area of Lebanon where cross-border fire was launched.
The Channel 12 television station said the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) fired a Patriot missile over northern Israel.
The IDF said it had identified a target described as “not a hostile aircraft” approaching Israeli territory “and launched an interceptor toward it”.
FEARS OF ‘CONFLAGRATION’
Israel’s military also said one of its drones struck a Hezbollah post in the area of Har Dov, an area in Shebaa, then fired a warning shot toward a number of “suspects” in the area.
A Lebanese security source told Reuters that a tent set up by Hezbollah in the Shebaa Farms had been hit and that Hezbollah fighters had erected a new one.
Other exchanges of fire took place throughout the day, with two Lebanese security sources saying rockets fired from Lebanon again hit Israeli positions in the Shebaa Farms and that Israel responded with artillery fire on the village of Kfar Shouba.
The United Nations peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, said it had “detected several rockets fired from southeast Lebanon toward Israeli-occupied territory” as well as artillery fire from Israel into Lebanon in response.
“We are in contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line, at all levels, to contain the situation and avoid a more serious escalation,” spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said.
The Blue Line is the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel, marking the point to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
On Saturday, UNIFIL said it had enhanced its presence in southern Lebanon following developments in Israel and Gaza, including its operations to counter rocket launches.
The U.N.’s special coordinator for Lebanon Joanna Wronecka said on X she was “deeply concerned” by the exchange of fire and urged parties to “shield Lebanon and its people from further conflagration”.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Aziz Taher, Karamallah Daher and Maya Gebeily in Lebanon, and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Editing by William Mallard and Barbara Lewis)