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Israel shells south Lebanon after alleged Hezbollah attack

Lebanese group denies Israeli claims that it staged a raid on the border as 'completely false'
A self-propelled howitzer near Moshav Sde Eliezer in northern Israel, by the border with Lebanon, 26 July 2020 (AFP)

Israeli shells rained down on south Lebanon on Monday after Israel said it repelled an attempt by Hezbollah to "infiltrate" a disputed border area.

The Israeli military said on Monday that it thwarted an "infiltration attempt" in the Shebaa Farms region that led to an armed clash with Hezbollah but no casualties.

Residents in the northern border area told local media that they reported hearing heavy exchanges of gunfire and dozens of Israeli shells hitting the frontier.

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The Hezbollah-linked Al-Manar channel reported that Israel attacked the hills of Kfarchouba and its western peripheries, as well as Shanouh Farm to its south.

Hezbollah, however, denied that its forces engaged in any operation, saying in a statement that the incident was "one-sided".

"There were no clashes or opening of fire from our side in today's events," said the armed group, which last fought a war with Israel in 2006.

"All that the enemy's media is claiming about thwarting an infiltration operation from Lebanon into occupied Palestine... is completely false."

The gunfire was "from one side only, the side of the scared, nervous and tense enemy." 

Shebaa Farms
Smoke billows above the hills of Kfarchouba in the Shebaa Farms sector after reports of clashes in the Lebanese-Israeli border area, on 27 July 2020 (AFP)

A Hezbollah operation of some sort had been predicted by Israel for days, after an Israeli air raid killed one of the group's fighters in Syria last week.

Israel had bolstered its military presence in the north, with the Lebanese army reporting on Saturday that 20 Israeli surveillance drones had penetrated the country's airspace on Friday.

Local sources told Middle East Eye that they could be widely heard and seen from the ground.

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In its statement, Hezbollah said its response to the killing of its fighter - Ali Kamel Mohsen- would "surely come".

Hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu disputed Hezbollah's account, claiming the group had attempted to infiltrate into Israel.

"Hezbollah should know that it is playing with fire," Netanyahu said at a press briefing in Tel Aviv alongside Defence Minister Benny Gantz.

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria since 2011 in an attempt to disrupt Iranian attempts to secure a stronghold in the country.

While Hezbollah has fought alongside Iranian forces in Syria, the armed group has largely limited its engagements with Israel to only when its own members have been killed by Israeli raids.

Last September, the deaths of two Hezbollah fighters in Syria led to an exchange of missiles and artillery fire - the first cross-border clash in years.