WASHINGTON: Lebanese militant group Hezbollah should not make the “wrong decision” of opening a second front against Israel as it battles attacks by Hamas, a senior US defence official warned on Monday.
“We are deeply concerned about Hezbollah making the wrong decision and choosing to open a second front to this conflict,” the official told journalists.
One of the reasons Washington is deploying a carrier strike group to the eastern Mediterranean is to signal that Iran-backed groups such as Hezbollah should not “question the commitment of the US government to support the defence of Israel,” the official said.
The senior defence official likened the weekend attacks by Hamas to the notorious brutality of the Daesh terror group, which is known by the acronym ISIS.
“This is ISIS-level savagery that we have seen committed against Israeli civilians - houses burned to the ground, young people massacred at music festivals,” the official said.
The US announced the decision on the strike group, which includes an aircraft carrier and other warships, on Sunday - a day after Hamas militants launched an unprecedented multi-pronged attack on Israel’s southern flank from the blockaded Gaza Strip, leaving hundreds of people dead.
Israel and Hezbollah have already traded fire this week, but have stopped short of the devastating full-scale war they fought in 2006 - a repeat of which would force Israel’s military to fight on two fronts, stretching its forces thin.
Hezbollah said Israeli strikes killed three of its members on Monday, after which it targeted two Israeli barracks.
Israel’s army said its soldiers had “killed a number of armed suspects” who had crossed the frontier from Lebanon and that its helicopters were striking the area.
A Hezbollah source had earlier told AFP a member was killed “in an Israeli strike on a watchtower in south Lebanon” near Aita al-Shaab village, with a spokesperson for the group confirming the death.
The Palestinian Islamic Jihad group’s armed wing, which claims to be fighting Israel alongside Hamas, said earlier it was behind a thwarted bid to infiltrate Israel from Lebanon.
“The Al Quds Brigades claim responsibility for the afternoon operation on the south Lebanon border,” the group said in a statement.
The mayor of the Lebanese border village of Dhayra said Israel was shelling the area.
“Fields on the outskirts of the village were subjected to intense Israeli artillery shelling, preceded by intermittent gunfire,” the mayor, Abdullah al-Gharib, told AFP.
The Lebanese army in a statement said the periphery of “Dhayra, Aita Al Shaab and other border areas were subjected to air and artillery bombardment by the Israeli enemy”.
It urged citizens “to take the utmost caution” and avoid border areas.
Andrea Tenenti, the spokesperson for the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which acts as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel, said UNIFIL commander Aroldo Lazaro was “in contact with the involved parties”.
He said Lazaro had urged them to exercise “maximum restraint” to prevent “further escalation and loss of life”.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said Israel had expanded bombardment on the same border area with “enemy warplanes intensifying their flights and launching incendiary bombs”.