Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah threatened Monday to hit “deep inside” Israel, a day after an exchange of fire on the Lebanese-Israeli border sparked fears of a wider conflict between the arch-foes.
Sunday s escalation was brief and followed a week of rising tensions, including what the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite movement described as an Israeli drone strike on its Beirut stronghold.
Israel has not acknowledged that attack, but accused Hezbollah and Tehran of colluding to produce precision-guided missiles on Lebanese soil.
Nasrallah on Monday said there were “no more red lines” in Hezbollah s confrontation with Israel.
He said Hezbollah would respond to further Israeli attacks with strikes “deep inside Israel” and not just along the border.
“If you attack us, your borders, soldiers and settlements — including those on the border and those deep inside (Israel) — will be threatened and targeted,” he said.
“If there is any aggression against Lebanon, there will be no such thing as international borders.”
He spoke after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country was “prepared for any scenario”.
“We shall continue to do everything necessary to preserve Israel s security, at sea, on land and in the air, and we will continue to act against the threat of precision missiles,” Netanyahu said on Monday.
On both sides of the Lebanon-Israel border, life returned to normal on Monday a day after Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles into the Jewish state, drawing return fire from Israel which caused brush fires.
War can start in a minute
Schools were open in the Israeli village of Avivim, from which the Lebanese town of Maroun al-Ras is clearly visible on a nearby hill.
“The war can start in a minute. I am worried it could happen,” said Dudu Peretz, 35, as he dropped his son off at kindergarten.
In southern Lebanon, farmers returned to their fields and the United Nations force tasked with monitoring the border area resumed its patrols, an AFP journalist said.
“We re used to this kind of thing,” said Ali al-Safari, a resident of Bint Jbeil on the Lebanese side of the border.
“We remain determined and calm.”
Sunday s exchange of fire began when Hezbollah fired anti-tank missiles at an Israeli army base near the border community of Avivim and at a vehicle Israel said was a military ambulance, destroying it.
Israel retaliated with around 100 artillery shells targeting the squad that fired the missiles.
Hezbollah said it had destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and killed and wounded those inside — a claim refuted by Israel.
Hezbollah s Al-Manar TV on Monday aired footage purporting to show a missile being launched towards a moving armoured vehicle, before an explosion sends large clouds of white smoke into the sky.
Al-Manar s presenter said two Kornet anti-tank missiles had been fired at the target, 1.5 kilometres (one mile) from the border.
After the flare-up, Lebanon s Prime Minister Saad Hariri contacted senior US and French officials to urge their countries and the international community to intervene.
The UN called for restraint and France said it had made “multiple contacts” to avert further fire.
The United States slammed the “destabilising role” of Iranian allies in the Middle East and said it “fully supports Israel s right to self defence”.
The pre-dawn August 25 attack involved two drones — one exploded and caused damage to a Hezbollah-run media centre and another crashed without detonating due to technical failure, Hezbollah said.
President Michel Aoun, a former army chief, denounced it as a “declaration of war”.
It came hours after Israel launched strikes in Syria to prevent what it said was an impending Iranian drone attack on the Jewish state, in which Hezbollah said two of its fighters were killed.
A source connected to Hezbollah called Sunday s fire a response to those deaths, and said a reaction to the alleged drone attack would take place in the air.
On Monday the Syrian government threw its support behind Hezbollah, whose fighters have since 2013 been fighting on President Bashar al-Assad s side in Syria s civil war.
A source at the ministry of foreign affairs told state news agency SANA that Damascus felt “pride at the… operation” against Israel.
Israel has staged hundreds of strikes against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria since the civil war began there in 2011, vowing to prevent its arch-foe Iran from entrenching itself militarily in the neighbouring country.
But a drone attack by Israel inside Lebanon would mark a departure — what Nasrallah labelled the first such “hostile action” since a 2006 war between them.
The 33-day war killed 1,200 Lebanese — mostly civilians — and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.
Sunday s escalation came just over two weeks ahead of Israel s September 17 election.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seen as wanting to avoid a major conflict before the vote.