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Israel, Hezbollah trade fire amid alarm over Gaza war spillover


Lebanon's Iranian-backed Hezbollah group said on Saturday it fired rockets at Israel, and Israel said it struck a "terrorist cell" in retaliation, as the top U.S. diplomat revisited the Middle East attempting to keep the war from spreading.

"One of the real concerns is the border between Israel and Lebanon, and we want to do everything possible to make sure we see no escalation," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told journalists in Crete after meeting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Saturday.

Middle Eastern nations need to use their influence over regional actors to ensure the Gaza conflict is contained and prevent "an endless cycle of violence," Blinken said.

Blinken and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell were on separate trips to the Middle East to try to quell spillover from the three-month-old war into Lebanon, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Red Sea shipping lanes.

Israel and Hezbollah often trade fire across the Lebanese border, the West Bank is seething with anger, and the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen seem determined to continue attacks on Red Sea shipping until Israel stops bombarding Palestinians in Gaza.

The Israeli military said it had identified some 40 "launches" from Lebanon toward the area surrounding the town of Meron in northern Israel. The sirens sounded, but there were no reports of casualties or damage.

Hezbollah said it hit a key Israeli observation post with 62 rockets as a "preliminary response" to the killing of Hamas' deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday by a drone in the southern suburbs of Beirut, a stronghold of Hamas' Lebanese ally Hezbollah, in an attack widely attributed to Israel.

Lebanese Islamist militant group Jama'a Islamiya said it had fired two volleys of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel, the third operation it has claimed since the Palestinian-Israeli conflict erupted on October 7.

Israel's military said it responded to the rocket attacks with a drone strike on "the terrorist cell responsible for the launches."

It said it had also struck several Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon, including military sites and "terrorist infrastructure." Hezbollah said five of its fighters had been killed in Israeli strikes.

Fighting raged on inside Gaza, especially in and near the southern city of Khan Younis, where the Israeli military said it had killed three members of the militant Palestinian Hamas group that rules the densely populated coastal strip.

It also claimed on Saturday evening that it has dismantled the military framework of Hamas in the northern Gaza Strip.

Israel's offensive on the region, aimed at wiping out Hamas, had killed 22,722 people by Saturday, according to Palestinian health officials. At least 122 Palestinians were killed and 256 others injured in Gaza in the space of 24 hours, health officials said.

When meeting with Blinken in Crete, Mitsotakis expressed concern about the risks of escalating tensions in the Middle East and the repercussions for regional stability and security, said Greek national news agency AMNA.

"These are difficult and challenging times for the region," Mitsotakis said, reiterating the need for an unhindered flow of humanitarian aid to Gaza. He also underlined that the solution can only be political, based on the two-state solution in accordance with UN resolutions.

Blinken met the leaders of Türkiye and Greece at the start of a week-long trip that will also take him to Israel, the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

(With input from Reuters)

(Cover: Smoke billows over Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment, January 6, 2024. /CFP)

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