Fighting along Israel-Lebanon border escalates to most serious level since start of Gaza war

Binyamin Netanyahu orders Israeli negotiators to boycott Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo

Children walk with plastic containers past a building that was destroyed during an Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 14th, 2024. Photograph: Mohammed Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Fighting along Israel’s northern border with Lebanon escalated to its most serious level since the start of the Gaza war as Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered his negotiating team to boycott the Gaza ceasefire talks in Cairo.

A woman soldier was killed and eight people were wounded when Hizbullah militants fired a rocket barrage at a military base close to Israel’s northern city of Safed, according to an Israeli government spokesperson.

In response, Israeli air force jets carried out extensive attacks on Lebanese territory, killing four people and wounding nearly a dozen, two Lebanese security sources said. A woman and her two children were killed in an Israeli strike on the village of al-Sawana, the sources said.

Hizbullah said a strike on a separate town killed one of its fighters. Eleven people were wounded across the south and the level of damage was “vast”, the sources said.


Israel struck military targets associated with Hizbullah’s Radwan strike force, command centres and arms and drone depots. Some of the attacks occurred 30km from the Israeli border.

Israel and the powerful Iranian-backed Hizbullah have been careful so far to avoid an all-out war which could plunge the entire region into a dangerous conflagration, but the danger of a miscalculation exists.

Hizbullah has made it clear that it will not hold its fire until there is a ceasefire in Gaza. A dozen Hizbullah fighters have been killed in Israeli strikes over the last few days, prompting the organisation’s leader Hassan Nasrallah to threaten in a speech on Tuesday to send two million Israelis to bomb shelters.

Twelve Israelis have been killed and almost 200 wounded in the cross-border attacks since the start of the Gaza war on October 7th and some 70,000 residents have fled their homes.

The casualties in southern Lebanon are much higher. The shelling has killed more than 200 people, including more than 170 Hizbullah fighters.

An Israeli policeman inspects the crater left by a rocket fired from southern Lebanon which landed near Ziv hospital in Safed. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP via Getty Images

As the fighting raged in the north, Mr Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegation not to return to Cairo on Thursday for further talks with US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators to secure a Gaza ceasefire and release the 134 hostages who have been in captivity for 131 days.

He said Israel is waiting for new Hamas proposals that will enable progress, but he took his decision without consulting other members of Israel’s war cabinet.

The Hostage and Missing Families Forum termed the move “a decision to sacrifice the lives of the hostages” and called a mass protest in Tel Aviv on Thursday.

Egypt said the talks on Tuesday resulted in some progress but two issues are holding up a deal: the Hamas insistence on a permanent ceasefire and differences over the number and identity of the Palestinian security prisoners to be released by Israel in exchange for hostages.

Egypt warned Hamas that without a breakthrough Israel will attack the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where more than one million refugees fled, within two weeks.

As fighting continued in the southern city of Khan Younis, Palestinian sources said Israel ordered thousands of displaced residents to leave Nasser hospital, the largest hospital in southern Gaza. Israel believes dozens of militants are hiding in the complex.

More than 28,500 people have been killed in Gaza according to the Hamas-run ministry for health. Israel says 1,200 people were killed in the surprise Hamas attack on October 7th and more than 250 kidnapped.

The World Health Organisation has warned that an attack on Rafah would cause an “unfathomable catastrophe” and push the enclave’s health system closer to the brink of collapse. – Additional reporting: Reuters.

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem