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Hezbollah Official Says His Group 'in the Heart' of Israel-Hamas War

Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position that was hit by Hezbollah fighters as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Oct. 20, 2023.
Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position that was hit by Hezbollah fighters as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Oct. 20, 2023.

A top official with Hezbollah vowed that Israel would pay a high price when it starts its expected ground offensive in the Gaza Strip and said Saturday that his militant group based in Lebanon is "in the heart of the battle."

The comments by Hezbollah's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Kassem, came as Israel shelled and made drone strikes in southern Lebanon and Hezbollah fired rockets and missiles toward Israel.

For Hezbollah, heating up the Lebanon-Israel border has a clear purpose, Kassem said: "We are trying to weaken the Israeli enemy and let them know that we are ready." Hamas officials have said that if Israel starts a ground offensive in Gaza, Hezbollah will join the fighting.

Exchanges of fire along the Lebanon-Israel border have picked up in the two weeks since the attack by the Palestinian militant group Hamas that killed more than 1,400 civilians and soldiers in southern Israel. Retaliatory Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have killed more than 4,300 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry on Saturday.

There are concerns that Iran-backed Hezbollah, which has a weapons arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles as well as different types of drones, might try to open a new front in the Israel-Hamas war with a large-scale attack on northern Israel.

Kassem said his group, which is allied with Hamas, is affecting the course of the conflict by keeping three Israeli army divisions tied up in the north instead of preparing to fight in Gaza.

"Do you believe that if you try to crush the Palestinian resistance, other resistance fighters in the region will not act?" Kassem said in a speech Saturday during the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter. "We are in the heart of the battle today. We are making achievements through this battle."

On Friday, the Israeli military announced the evacuation of a border city where three residents were wounded in the crossfire a day earlier.

An Associated Press journalist in south Lebanon reported hearing loud explosions Saturday along the border, close to the Mediterranean coast.

Hezbollah said its fighters attacked several Israeli positions and also targeted an Israeli infantry force, "scoring direct hits."

Lebanon's state-run National News Agency reported Israeli shelling of several villages and said a car took a direct hit in the village of Houla. On Saturday evening, shelling intensified around an Israeli army post across from the Lebanese village of Yaroun.

Hezbollah said one of its fighters was killed Saturday, raising the total of Lebanese militants killed to 14 since October 7 when Hamas staged its deadly cross-border strike on Isarel.

Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee said a group of gunmen fired a shell into Israel and an Israeli drone was launched back toward them. A drone also was dispatched after another group of gunmen fired toward the Israeli town of Margaliot, Adraee said.

"Direct hits were scored in both strikes," Adraee posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Hezbollah's Kassem spoke about foreign dignitaries who visited Lebanon over the past two weeks asking Lebanese officials to convince the group not to take part in the latest Hamas-Israel battle. He said Hezbollah's response to Lebanese officials was, "We are part of the battle."

"We tell those who are contacting us, 'Stop the (Israeli) aggression so that its (conflict) repercussions and possibility of expansion stops,'" Kassem said, referring to the officials who recently visited Beirut, including the foreign ministers of France and Germany.

Speaking about an expected Israeli ground invasion of Gaza, Kassem, said: "Our information are that the preparedness in Gaza by Hamas and resistance fighters will make (the) Israeli ground invasion their graveyard."