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Hezbollah member killed as Israeli helicopters bomb Lebanon after Gaza militants cross northern border

Israeli helicopters bombed targets in southern Lebanon on Monday after Palestinian gunmen broke through Israel’s northern border, resulting in a deadly exchange of fire as fighting in Gaza spread to a new front.

At least two militants were killed in a shootout with Israeli forces after breaking through the border fence from Lebanon, the Israeli military claimed, and a local Israeli hospital reported six injuries. The attack was claimed by Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a militant faction based in the Gaza strip.

The Israeli military confirmed that it was striking targets in Lebanese territory after “a number of armed suspects” had “infiltrated” the border, without offering further details about the targets. The operation used artillery fire as well as helicopters.

UN peacekeepers reported explosions in southwestern Lebanese territory. Lebanese state media reported that two civilians were injured.

Lebanon’s dominant militant faction, Hezbollah, which is also a political party, denied involvement in the operation. But a member of the group was killed in the attack, Reuters reported, citing Lebanese security sources.

The group later acknolwedged the death of a member but said he was killed at a command post on the Lebanese side of the border by an Israeli strike.

Israel has summoned reservists and heavy equipment to the northern front and told residents of the area to remain indoors.

Lebanon and Israel are technically still at war after hostilities, led by Hezbollah on the Lebanese side, ended in the 2006 war.

Border skirmishes have increased in recent years and Israel has bombed Hezbollah targets in neighbouring Syria, where the group is allied with Iran and Syrian president Bashar-al Assad in the country’s ongoing civil war.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah praised the Hamas operation that killed more than 700 Israelis.

“It sends a message to the Arab and Islamic world…especially those seeking normalisation with this enemy, that the Palestinian cause is an everlasting one, alive until victory and liberation,” he said on Sunday.

Israel Defence Force (IDF) spokesperson Richard Hecht responded by warning the group not to become involved with fighting in Gaza. “We recommend Hezbollah not to come into this. If they come we are ready,” he said.

Unifil, the UN agency assigned to peacekeeping around the Israeli-Lebanese border, said it was in dialogue with all parties seeking to lower tensions.

A UN official with a focus on the region said the flare-up was likely to remain limited in scope.

“We probably won’t see a major escalation,” he told i. “I am not expecting Hezbollah to try to enter Israel in a meaningful way. More likely (this operation) was intended to establish deterrence against the possibility of Israeli strikes or operations in South Lebanon.”

The greater risk was escalation from the Israeli side due to domestic concerns, the official suggested.

“It is very much dependent on how Netanyahu assesses the impact of the Gaza operation on his government’s stability. If he cannot manage expectations then we could see a larger Israeli operation to restore its image.”

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