Senior Hezbollah commander and deputy killed in targeted IDF strike in south Lebanon

The Israel Defense Forces said Thursday it had eliminated a senior Hezbollah commander in the terror group’s elite Radwan Force responsible for a March 2023 bombing in northern Israel, along with his deputy, in a strike in southern Lebanon the previous night.

The IDF said its fighter jets struck a building used by Hezbollah in Nabatieh, killing Ali Muhammad al-Debes and his deputy Hassan Ibrahim Issa.

According to the IDF, al-Debes, a commander in the terror group’s elite Radwan Force, was one of the masterminds behind a bombing attack at Israel’s Megiddo Junction that seriously injured a man, and planned and carried out other attacks against Israel, including amid the ongoing border conflict.

Lebanese officials have said 10 people were killed in the strike, including three Hezbollah men and seven civilians in one family. A Lebanese security official said the Hezbollah members were on the ground floor of the building hit, while the family was on the floor above.

Al-Debes had previously been targeted and wounded in an Israeli strike in the southern Lebanon town of Nabatieh a week earlier, a Lebanese security source told AFP, requesting anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Lebanese media reports said he was responsible for Palestinian affairs in the terror group.

Hussein Ahmad Aqeel, 36, from Jebbayn was listed by Hezbollah as another operative killed.

The wave of strikes on Wednesday came in response to a Hezbollah rocket attack on an army installation and city in northern Israel that killed an IDF soldier and injured eight others.

Since October 8, Hezbollah-led forces have attacked Israeli communities and military posts along the border on a near-daily basis, with the group saying it is doing so to support Gaza amid the war there.

Fears have been growing of another full-blown conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, who last went to war in 2006.

Hezbollah has vowed Israel would “pay the price” for civilian deaths in Wednesday’s strikes.

Fighting persisted on Thursday, with a barrage of 14 projectiles fired at Kiryat Shmona in the evening, including two anti-tank missiles and 12 rockets, Channel 12 news reported.

Police said a rocket fell within the city, causing property damage but no injuries.

The rocket fire set off sirens in the city and led to electricity outages in some parts of the city, the Ynet news site reported.

Earlier in the day, projectiles were fired along other northern communities, including three anti-tank missiles fired at the Shtula and a rocket at Mount Dov. No injuries were reported in the incidents.

The IDF said it struck dozens of Hezbollah sites in southern Lebanon due to the ongoing fire.

Targets hit by fighter jets included rocket launching positions, buildings, and other infrastructure used by the terror group in the Wadi Saluki area, according to the IDF.

Earlier Thursday, the IDF said it also struck Hezbollah infrastructure in Labbouneh, and overnight hit a building used by the terror group in Taybeh.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the military had stepped up its attacks against Hezbollah by “one level out of 10,” warning that “the IDF possesses very significant further strength” and “Air Force jets currently flying in the skies of Lebanon have heavier bombs for more distant targets.”

Speaking during a war simulation drill carried out by the country’s so-called emergency preparedness committee, Gallant said it had convened after “an intense day in the north” following the deadly barrage Wednesday.

He said Hezbollah had gone up half a step, while Israel had escalated a full step with its response, but “it’s one level out of 10.”

“We can attack not only at 20 kilometers [from the border], but also at 50 kilometers, and in Beirut and anywhere else,” Gallant said.

“We do not want to reach this situation, we do not want to enter into a war, but rather wish to reach an agreement that will allow the safe return of residents of the north to their homes, under an agreement process,” he said, referring to 80,000 Israelis displaced for months by Hezbollah’s daily attacks.

“But if there is no choice, we will act to bring [the residents] back and create the appropriate security for them. This should be clear to both our enemies and our friends. And as the State of Israel, the defense establishment, and the IDF have proven in recent months, when we say something, we mean it,” he added.

The meeting, attended by several government ministers, defense brass and other civilian officials, simulated a war scenario in northern Israel with potential damage to power lines, issues with transporting food, and complex medical evacuations, according to the Defense Ministry.

Earlier, Gallant said he’d updated US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin about the situation on the northern border.

“The State of Israel will not tolerate attacks on its citizens. We will ensure security and the safe return of our communities to the north, and are prepared to do so via diplomatic or military means,” he said.

So far, the skirmishes on the northern border have resulted in six civilian deaths on the Israeli side, as well as the deaths of 10 IDF soldiers. There have also been several attacks from Syria, without any injuries.

Hezbollah has named 201 members who have been killed by Israel during the ongoing skirmishes, mostly in Lebanon but some also in Syria. In Lebanon, another 29 operatives from other terror groups, a Lebanese soldier, and at least 30 civilians, three of whom were journalists, have been killed.

The fighting has also displaced tens of thousands of people in the border areas of each country.

War erupted in Gaza with Palestinian terror group Hamas’s October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air, and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing 253 hostages, mostly civilians. Entire families were executed in their homes, and over 360 people were slaughtered at an outdoor festival, many amid horrific acts of brutality by the terrorists.

Israel has warned it will no longer tolerate the presence of Hezbollah along the Lebanon frontier, where it could attempt to carry out an attack similar to the massacre committed by Hamas on October 7.

Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address on Tuesday that his group would only stop its exchanges of fire if a full ceasefire was reached in Gaza

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