Israeli strike kills dozens at former school where civilians took refuge

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened further military action against Hezbollah in Lebanon on Wednesday, amid growing talk of another full-scale war, even as Israel battles Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Two days after Hezbollah militants fired a barrage of rockets and explosive drones from Lebanon into northern Israel, setting off several fires, Netanyahu visited soldiers and firefighters in the area and said the Israeli army was ready to strike .

“Whoever thinks they can harm us and that we will respond by sitting on our hands is making a big mistake,” he said, according to the Israeli government. “We are prepared for very intense action in the north. One way or another we will restore security in the north.”

Other Israeli officials have threatened war in Lebanon against Hezbollah, which has stepped up attacks on northern Israel since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October. But belligerent speeches carry more weight if they come from the highest levels – not just the prime minister but also the military chief of staff and a minister.

Israeli forces and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed militia and political faction that exercises de facto control over southern Lebanon, have traded attacks for months, forcing more than 150,000 people on both sides of the border to flee.

Lebanon’s Hezbollah-controlled Al Manar television network said on Monday that the group had fired at Israeli soldiers in several locations near the border, setting fires, and said it had caused casualties.

According to Israeli news reports, one of the most intense fires threatened homes in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, near the Lebanese border. That city, like much of the Israeli border area, has been largely evacuated for months and no casualties have been reported.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for another drone attack in the region on Wednesday. The Israeli military said two drones landed in the area of ​​Hurfeish, a Druze village whose citizens are mainly part of an Arab-Israeli minority in Israel. At least 11 people were injured, one seriously. No siren sounded to warn of the attack, according to the Israeli army, which said it was looking into the incident.

Such attacks – and threats of more direct military action – have raised concerns about the prospect of Israel waging a two-front war.

Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said on Wednesday that the Biden administration remained “incredibly concerned” about the risk of escalation between Israel and Hezbollah.

“That said, the government of Israel has long maintained – privately with us, and has also said so publicly – that their preferred solution to this conflict is diplomatic, and we continue to pursue a diplomatic solution,” Mr. Ha said Miller said.

The Biden administration has held talks with Israel and Lebanon, exchanging messages with Hezbollah through intermediaries. According to Lebanese and Israeli officials and other participants, the talks aim to push Hezbollah forces away from the border.

But Hezbollah has said repeatedly that it will not negotiate until the war in Gaza ends, and Israeli military officials this week said they were increasingly frustrated by Hezbollah’s attacks.

“We are approaching the point where a decision needs to be made, and the IDF is ready and prepared for that decision,” Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi, the Israeli army’s chief of staff, said on Tuesday.

Far-right leaders in Israel have called for war against Hezbollah in Lebanon. “The time has come,” Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s finance minister, said on social media Wednesday. “There is the full support of the entire people of Israel.”

Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 2006 in an attempt to root out armed militants who had launched attacks on Israel.

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