Two dead, fires in south Lebanon after Israeli strikes: state media

Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli strike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border (Rabih DAHER)
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli strike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border (Rabih DAHER)

Israeli strikes on Saturday killed two people and sparked wildfires in southern Lebanon, state media said, with Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah announcing the death of one fighter.

Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces in the eight months since the Gaza war began, triggered by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack.

The deadly clashes have intensified in recent weeks, causing multiple brush fires on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border and raising fears the conflict could broaden.

Lebanon's official National News Agency (NNA) said Saturday that "an Israeli drone carried out an air attack with two guided missiles, targeting a cafe in Aitarun and killing the cafe's owner, Ali Khalil Hamad, 37, and a young man named Mustafa A. Issa."

The agency also reported a "violent airstrike" on the border village of Khiam.

Israel's army said in a statement that "one of its planes struck a Hezbollah terrorist in the Aitarun region".

The airforce had also targeted "terrorist infrastructure" in the Khiam and Markaba regions, it added.

Shortly after, Hezbollah said it had launched Katyusha rockets on a town across the border "in response to the Israeli enemy's attacks against southern villages and safe houses, and the targeting of civilians, notably in Aitarun where two people were killed".

The Shiite Muslim movement later announced that one of its fighters had been killed by Israeli fire. It identified him as Radwan A. Issa, without providing further details.

More than eight months of border violence, which began on October 8, has killed 458 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including about 90 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side of the border, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to the army.

- 'Phosphorus shells' -

"Israeli artillery bombarded today the outskirts of the town of Alma al-Shaab with incendiary phosphorus shells, causing fires in the forests that spread to the vicinity of some homes," NNA reported earlier on Saturday.

It added that the fire had reached "large areas of olive trees".

Lebanese authorities and several international rights groups have accused Israel of using white phosphorus rounds in its strikes on its northern neighbour.

White phosphorus, a substance that ignites on contact with oxygen, can be used as an incendiary weapon.

Its use as a chemical weapon is prohibited under international law, but it is allowed for illuminating battlefields and can be used as a smokescreen.

Rescuer Ali Abbas of the Risala Scout association, affiliated with Hezbollah ally the Amal movement, told AFP that "Israel deliberately bombs forested areas with phosphorus with the aim of starting fires."

According to him, rescuers on the grounds have been struggling to extinguish the flames, while the Lebanese military avoids sending helicopters to assist for fear of more Israeli attacks.

Further east, the NNA reported that "a large fire broke out at positions belonging to the Lebanese army and UNIFIL", the UN peacekeeping mission, in the area of the border village of Mais al-Jabal.

It is located near the UN-demarcated Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel.

A security source told AFP on condition of anonymity that fires broke out near military positions but have not reached them or caused any casualties.

The UN peacekeepers in a statement reported a "bushfire near one of their positions in Hula", which was put out with help from Lebanese troops and civil defence forces.

"The fire didn't cause any damage to UNIFIL assets or personnel," it said.

The NNA said "several landmines exploded, and firefighting operations are still continuing" in the area.

jos/jj/des