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Israel-Palestine war: Heavy exchange of fire across Israel-Lebanon border, as Gaza toll climbs

Hezbollah says it hit an Israeli post with 62 rockets, as Blinken kicks off regional tour in Turkey
This photograph taken on January 5, 2024 shows buildings in the southern Lebanese town of Tair Harfa as smoke billows over northern Israel (AFP)
Smoke billows over a hill in northern Israel behind buildings in Tair Harfa, southern Lebanon, on 5 January 2024 (AFP)

Lebanon's Hezbollah said it hit an Israeli observation post with 62 rockets as a "preliminary response" to the killing of Hamas's deputy chief in Beirut earlier this week, as tensions escalated along the Israel-Lebanon border.

The Lebanese group hit a key post on a hilltop that Israel relies on for "aerial observation" and "air control", according to a Hezbollah statement on Saturday.

Earlier in the day, Israel's military said heavy fire from Lebanon targeted northern Israel, adding that it responded by striking a "terrorist cell" that took part in the attacks.

Shortly after rocket sirens sounded across northern Israel, the military said "approximately 40 launches from Lebanon toward the area of Meron in northern Israel were identified".

"A short while after, the [Israeli military] struck a terrorist cell that took part in the launches," it said.

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Later on Saturday, Lebanese group Jamaa al-Islamiya, which lost two of its members in the Israeli attack in Beirut, said in a statement that it fired two volleys of rockets at Kiryat Shmona in northern Israel.

The escalation along the border came after an Israeli drone strike in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital killed senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri on Tuesday.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that all of Lebanon would be vulnerable to further attacks if the group remained "silent" on the strike. 

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is in Lebanon, warned against the country being dragged into a wider conflict as a spillover of the Israel-Palestine war, which began on 7 October. 

He said on Saturday it was imperative to avoid regional escalation, and warned Israel that "nobody will win from a regional conflict".

At least 122 killed in Gaza in a day

In the besieged Gaza enclave, the Palestinian health ministry announced on Saturday that at least 122 people had been killed by Israeli bombardment over the past 24 hours, and 256 others wounded. 

That brought the total death toll in Gaza since 7 October to 22,722 Palestinians, with 58,166 others wounded.

Several Palestinian civilians were killed and wounded during Israeli air strikes targeting residential areas in Gaza's Khan Younis and Beit Lahia, Wafa news agency reported on Saturday. 

The Palestinian Red Crescent Society (PRCS) reported intense shelling of the PRCS-run al-Amal Hospital in Khan Younis. 

"Shrapnel from the shelling scatters on the building, accompanied by heavy gunfire from drones," it said on social media platform X. 

PRCS added later that a displaced Palestinian was wounded in the chest when shot by a sniper bullet outside the hospital. 

Elsewhere, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul, kicking off of a week-long trip aimed at calming tensions across the region.

Earlier on Saturday, Blinken and Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met to discuss the situation in Gaza as well as Turkey's process to ratify Sweden's membership of Nato, Ankara's foreign ministry said in a statement.

The Biden administration's most senior diplomat's tour will include Arab states, Israel and the occupied West Bank, during which he will say that Washington does not want a regional escalation of the conflict.

A US official told Reuters that Washington wants countries in the region, including Turkey, to play a part in reconstruction, governance and potentially security in the besieged Gaza Strip after the end of the war.

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