Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike
Smoke billows from the site of an Israeli airstrike on the southern Lebanese village of Khiam near the border on June 8, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

Beirut: Israeli strikes Saturday on southern Lebanon sparked massive wildfires, state media and a first responder said, the latest fallout from escalating cross-border violence involving Iran-backed armed group Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, a Hamas ally, has traded near-daily fire with Israeli forces in the eight months since the Gaza war began, triggered by the Palestinian militant group's October 7 attack.

The deadly clashes have intensified in recent weeks, causing multiple brush fires on both sides of the Israel-Lebanon border.

Lebanon's official National News Agency (NNA) said on Saturday that "Israeli artillery bombarded today the outskirts of the town of Alma Al Shaab with incendiary phosphorus shells, causing fires in the forests that spread to the vicinity of some homes".

It added that the fire had reached "large areas of olive trees".

Lebanese authorities and several international rights groups have accused Israel of using white phosphorus rounds in its strikes on its northern neighbour.

White phosphorus, a substance that ignites on contact with oxygen, can be used as an incendiary weapon.

Its use as a chemical weapon is prohibited under international law, but it is allowed for illuminating battlefields and can be used as a smokescreen.

Rescuer Ali Abbas of the Risala Scout association, affiliated with Hezbollah ally the Amal movement, told AFP that "Israel deliberately bombs forested areas with phosphorus with the aim of starting fires."

According to him, rescuers on the grounds have been struggling to extinguish the flames, while the Lebanese military avoids sending helicopters to assist for fear of more Israeli attacks.

Further east, the NNA reported that "a large fire broke out at positions belonging to the Lebanese army and UNIFIL", the UN peacekeeping mission, in the area of the border village of Mais al-Jabal.

It is located near the UN-demarcated Blue Line between Lebanon and Israel.

A security source told AFP on condition of anonymity that fires broke out near military positions but have not reached them or caused any casualties.

The UN peacekeepers in a statement reported a "bushfire near one of their positions in Hula", which was put out with help from Lebanese troops and civil defence forces.

"The fire didn't cause any damage to UNIFIL assets or personnel," it said.

The NNA said "several landmines exploded, and firefighting operations are still continuing" in the area.

The border violence, which began on October 8, has killed 456 people in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including about 90 civilians, according to an AFP tally.

On the Israeli side of the border, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to the army.