Israel expanded planned evacuations of communities on its northern front with Lebanon on Sunday as cross-border clashes with fighters from Lebanese group Hezbollah have intensified since the war in Gaza erupted more than two weeks ago.
After enacting a plan last week to move residents out of 28 border-area villages, and the nearby town of Kiryat Shmona, with state-funded temporary accommodation, the Defence Ministry said it was adding 14 communities to the evacuation list.
Hezbollah and Israel have been trading fire at the frontier with increasing frequency since Palestinian group Hamas carried out a deadly shock attack on Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel responded with intense air strikes on Gaza.
Hezbollah said four fighters were killed on Sunday and another died of wounds sustained earlier, raising to 24 the number of its members killed since Oct.
Lebanese security sources say 11 fighters with Palestinian groups in Lebanon, allied to Hezbollah, have been killed in the border area, alongside four civilians.
At least five Israeli soldiers and one civilian have been killed on Israel’s side of the frontier, based on Israeli military reports.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has yet to speak publicly about the escalation, but Hezbollah lawmaker Hassan Fadlallah said on Sunday the group’s leader was closely monitoring developments and directing commanders in battle.
The Israeli military said on Sunday it struck several Hezbollah targets in Lebanon overnight, including what it described as a compound from which a missile had been fired at one of its drones. It did not provide a location for the sites.
In later incidents, Israeli forces struck three groups of fighters who launched or were preparing to launch anti-armour missiles across the border, the military said, adding that it also shot down a drone approaching from within Lebanon.
Hezbollah-run TV channel Al-Manar reported Israeli bombardments around Aalma Shaab and surrounding areas, which lie in the west of the borderlands, and also around Aitaroun further east.
The area around the Lebanese town of Hula, opposite Israel’s Kiryat Shmona, also faced Israeli bombardments, Al-Manar reported. The Hula district has been a particular focus for strikes and counter-strikes in recent days.
Sources have previously said Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel were designed to keep Israel’s army occupied without provoking a major war. Israel has said it has no interest in waging war and that if Hezbollah is restrained it will maintain the status quo.
But rising tensions have raised concerns in the region and beyond about the risk of a wider conflict, as Israel makes preparations for an expected land incursion into Gaza.
(Inputs from Reuters)