GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israel said on Monday its troops backed by helicopters had killed armed infiltrators entering the country from Lebanon, raising fears war could spread to a second front two days after Hamas gunmen burst in from Gaza on a deadly rampage.
One Hezbollah member was killed in Israeli bombardment in southern Lebanon on Monday, two sources close to Hezbollah and a security source in Lebanon said.
The Israeli military said it had called up an unprecedented 300,000 reservists and was imposing a total blockade of the Gaza Strip, signs it could be planning a ground assault there to defeat Hamas.
In a further sign of Israel’s rapid shift onto a war footing, a cabinet member from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said it could set up a national unity government joined by opposition leaders within hours.
Netanyahu told mayors of southern towns hit by the surprise assault that Israel’s response would “change the Middle East”.
The prospect that fighting could spread to other areas has alarmed the region. Israeli troops “killed a number of armed suspects that infiltrated into Israeli territory from Lebanese territory,” the military said, adding helicopters “are currently striking in the area”.
An official with Hezbollah denied that the group had mounted any operation into Israel. Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group powerful in southern Lebanon, is backed by Iran like Hamas.
Artillery shelling and gunfire were heard at Lebanon’s southern border with Israel, a correspondent for Hezbollah’s Al Manar TV said in a post on social media. Israel’s Army Radio gave the location as being near Adamit, across from the Lebanese border towns of Aalma El Chaeb and Zahajra.
In Israel’s south, scene of the deadly Hamas attack, Israel’s chief military spokesman said troops had re-established control of communities inside Israel that had been overrun, but that isolated clashes continued as some gunmen remained active.
“We are now carrying out searches in all of the communities and clearing the area,” chief military spokesperson Rear-Admiral Daniel Hagari said. Earlier, another spokesman, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, acknowledged that it was “taking more time than we expected to get things back into a defensive, security posture”.
Egypt, which has mediated between Israel and Hamas at times of conflict in the past, was in close contact with the two sides, trying to prevent further escalation, according to Egyptian security sources.
Qatari mediators have held urgent calls with Hamas officials to try to negotiate freedom for Israeli women and children seized by the militant group and held in Gaza, in exchange for the release of 36 Palestinian women and children from Israel’s prisons, a source told Reuters.