Israel strikes Lebanon, kills two journalists in escalation

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BEIRUT – Airstrikes blamed on Israel killed four Lebanese civilians on Tuesday, including two journalists, in a fresh escalation of fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, where Hezbollah fighters and forces Israel has been engaged in daily exchanges of fire over the past six weeks.

A separate strike killed at least four people traveling in a vehicle near the border in southern Lebanon, the Lebanese National News Agency said. Hamas said at least one of the dead was a Hamas hero.

Hezbollah vowed to respond to the killings, then announced that it had fired rockets into northern Israel in retaliation, targeting an Israeli military base in Beit Hillel, a meeting of Israeli soldiers in Avivim and a unit Israeli military intelligence in Manara. There were no immediate reports of casualties.

The fighting along the Lebanon-Israel border is now nowhere near as intense as the fighting in Gaza, but has been escalating in recent weeks, building concerns that an incident or misunderstanding could trigger a far more devastating war between Israel and Lebanon.

Most of the exchanges have taken place within four to five miles of the border on either side, in keeping with an unspoken agreement that has existed between Israel and Hezbollah since their last fight in 2006 without allowing enemies to escalate to full-scale war. But the range and intensity of the strikes have continued to increase, even as civilian targets are considered off-limits.

Tuesday’s attacks brought to at least 15 the number of Lebanese civilians killed in the past six weeks, marking one of the bloodiest days on the Lebanese side of the border since the conflict began on October 8, with Hezbollah fires shells at Israeli soldiers in a show of solidarity with Hamas. In addition, at least 77 Hezbollah fighters and 11 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed.

The deaths of two journalists working for the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV channel brought to three the number of journalists killed in Lebanon in cross-border exchanges, raising concerns in in Lebanon that Israel may target journalists. Al Mayadeen identified them as reporter Farah Omar and cameraman Rabih al-Maamari, and said a civilian accompanying them was also killed when an Israeli plane fired two missiles at their camera position.

An 80-year-old woman was killed earlier in the day in an Israeli airstrike against a border town, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported.

The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, accused Israel of targeting the journalists on purpose. “His goal is to silence the media that exposes their crimes and attacks,” he said.

Israel did not respond to the allegations but said its aircraft were operating in the area against what a statement from the Israel Defense Forces described as “terrorist cells.”

An investigation by the French group Reporters Without Borders into the October assassination of Reuters cameraman Issam Abdallah concluded that Abdallah and his colleagues, several of whom were injured, were “clearly targeted.” There was no Hezbollah fire coming from the area at the time, and the group of journalists had identified themselves as journalists, the group said.

Israel has said it was “deeply sorry” for Abdallah’s death but has not publicly acknowledged responsibility.

Suzan Haidamous in Washington contributed to this report.

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