Sunday, May 26, 2024

Israel and Hezbollah Trade Deadly Rocket Fire as Gaza War Threatens to Widen

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JERUSALEM – A new front exploded in Israel’s bloody offensive against Palestinian militants, thrusting the region toward an even wider war on Friday as the Lebanese Hezbollah group joined the fray by raining rockets onto Israeli cities.

The shocking barrages from Lebanon marked a dramatic escalation in the 13-day Israeli onslaught on Gaza. What began as another flare-up of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian factions has now risked teetering into a regional conflagration drawing in Iran’s proxy forces like Hezbollah.

As Israeli air raid sirens wailed in the north, bright streaks lit up the night sky as Hezbollah rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system. In a televised address, a furious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the militia’s backers in Tehran that his military’s “arm is long” as it struck Hezbollah targets in southern Lebanon.

“Whoever attacks us – we’ll attack him and whoever attacks us will bear the full responsibility,” thundered Netanyahu, his voice straining with rage.

The shock Hezbollah intervention raised the specter of a repeat of the 2006 war between Israel and the Shiite militia, which lasted 34 horrific days. Netanyahu put the region on high alert for further spillover as he demanded Hezbollah’s enablers in Iran be branded terrorists worldwide.

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“I call on the European Union and the free world to immediately declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps as a terrorist organization and to sanction Iran now,” he said.

In a whirlwind of bloodshed, at least 33,686 Palestinians have now been killed in Gaza since October 7th as Israel seeks to degrade militant groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad which have pelted Israeli cities with thousands of rockets. The Israeli death toll stands at 1,139.

Even before Hezbollah’s rockets added a wildly unpredictable element, Israel was already grappling with a serious new domestic threat – a wave of Jewish settler attacks sweeping the occupied West Bank after the suspected militant killing of a teenage Israeli.

The charred body of 19-year-old Benyamin Ahimayir, who had been missing for a day, was discovered near the Palestinian village of Bani Naim. Netanyahu branded it a “heinous murder” and called on settlers to stay calm – a farcical request given the hell already unfolding across Palestinian towns and villages.

In a racist frenzy fueled by hardcore fundamentalists, heavily armed settlers torched buildings, opened fire indiscriminately at Palestinians and even shot at Red Crescent ambulances. One Palestinian was killed in the onslaught as rampage videos flooded the internet.

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“They have their own guns with them. I even saw their guns, I was scared to death,” said Abed Abu Awwad from Ramallah, describing how settlers attacked his vehicle, smashing windows with hurled rocks. “I feel no security and safety in the West Bank.”

With Gaza already being shredded by airstrikes and shelling, the new mayhem in the West Bank and Hezbollah’s bombast threatened to open up a whole new front in the cycle of violence. Even by the barbaric standards of Middle East turmoil, the escalation was staggering.

Israel said its warplanes had struck a Hamas compound in Gaza City in apparent retaliation for the Hezbollah rockets, reducing residential areas to rubble and leaving five dead. It also bombed Hezbollah positions across the border in southern Lebanon.

In the Gaza neighborhood hit by the airstrike, a frantic father pulled alive from the pulverized debris cried out for his son, believing he was still alive under the heaps of concrete and metal. “Samir, Samir!” he wailed to rescue workers struggling to dig out survivors.

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To the north in Lebanon, the skies over Beirut lit up with outgoing rockets and streaks of flares amid the rumble of explosions. Lebanon’s prime minister reacted by declaring the country was determined to stay out of the “insane war” – a meaningless plea as Hezbollah unleashed rocket after rocket toward Israel.

While Lebanese authorities pleaded for calm, notices pushed to local media warned villagers to flee border areas for safety: “This is for your own security.”

The cataclysmic events on multiple fronts obliterated any hope of an imminently negotiated ceasefire. Egyptian mediators gave up trying to broker a truce for now after relentless Israeli strikes and rocket attacks made any pause inconceivable.

Instead, an unconscionable weekend of staggering bloodshed seemed all but inevitable. The shock of Hezbollah launching rockets served as a dire catalyst that could mark a pivotal turn for the worse.

“Hezbollah is keen to remind its backers and allies of its indispensable role as a front against Israel and reinforce its credentials,” said Maha Yahya, the Beirut-based director of the Carnegie Middle East Center. “This could be a first step towards opening a new, wider front with Israel.”



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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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