Hezbollah fires big salvo of rockets at Israel after senior commander killed

<span>The barrage of Hezbollah rockets caused fires in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and northern Israel.</span><span>Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA</span>
The barrage of Hezbollah rockets caused fires in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and northern Israel.Photograph: Atef Safadi/EPA

The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has launched its biggest salvo of rockets at Israel since the war in Gaza began in retaliation for the killing of a senior field commander, bringing the two sides closer to all-out conflict.

An Israeli airstrike on the village of Jouaiya in southern Lebanon late on Tuesday night killed three Hezbollah operatives as well as Taleb Abdallah, the most senior commander to be killed since hostilities began eight months ago.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said more than 170 projectiles had been fired from Lebanon by the Iran-allied militia in three barrages. “Approximately 90 projectiles were identified crossing from Lebanon,” it said. Several were intercepted but others struck inside Israel, causing fires in parts of the north. The initial barrage was followed by a second of about 70 projectiles and a third of about 10, the military said. It said the army struck several sites in south Lebanon in response.

Israel’s Magen David Adom emergency medical service said there were no immediate reports of casualties.

Hezbollah said it hit a sensitive Israeli military factory and bases in Ein Zeitim and Ami’ad and an Israeli military air surveillance station in Meron, in each case firing dozens of Katyusha rockets, according to its statements.

The Shia group opened a second front for Israel the day after Hamas launched its 7 October attack from the Gaza Strip, firing rockets and mortars at villages and farms abutting the UN-controlled blue line separating the two countries. The war of attrition has steadily worsened, and Israeli politicians and generals have signalled in recent weeks readiness for a full-scale conflict.

Abdallah, the Hezbollah commander killed on Tuesday, was responsible for the central region of the southern border strip, and senior to Wissam al-Tawil, another high-level Hezbollah commander killed in an Israeli strike in January, Lebanese sources told Reuters.

“We will increase the intensity, strength, quantity and quality of our attacks,” the senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said at Abdallah’s funeral on Wednesday afternoon. Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters and senior officials with the militant group attended the ceremony. The body was taken for burial in Abdallah’s home town of Aadschit.

The IDF confirmed it had “eliminated” Abdallah, calling him “one of Hezbollah’s most senior commanders in southern Lebanon”.

In Doha, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, renewed calls for a diplomatic solution on the Israel-Lebanon border and said a long-sought Gaza ceasefire deal would “take a tremendous amount of pressure out of the system”.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from their homes on both sides of the blue line since October, and it is unclear when they will be able to return. The back-and-forth fire has killed 18 Israeli soldiers and 10 civilians, as well as 71 Lebanese civilians and about 500 members of Hezbollah – more fighters than it lost in the last major war with Israel in 2006.

Related: ‘Everyone knows something’s going to happen’: fears of a new war on Israel’s border with Lebanon

Hezbollah has indicated it is not seeking all-out war with Israel, at the same time as steadily increasing the scope and intensity of its attacks. Earlier this month, it fired a squadron of drones at Israel, rather than individual launches.

The US and France are leading intense negotiations aimed at defusing the border tensions, but the possibility of escalation appears to be growing more likely. While Israel’s generals have wanted to focus on the war in Gaza, last week Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened an “extremely powerful” response to Hezbollah’s attacks. Israel has also raised the cap on the number of army reservists it can call up by 50,000 to about 350,000, close to the number called up at the beginning of the Gaza war.

A full-scale conflict between Hezbollah and Israel would be devastating for both sides: the Lebanese group has built up a formidable arsenal since 2006.

It could also draw in Hezbollah’s backers in Iran. Tehran directly attacked Israel with missiles and drones for the first time in April, an assault carried out in response to the bombing of a consular building in the Syrian capital, Damascus.