Israel bombs Hezbollah target on Syria-Lebanon border

Fighters from the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement carry the coffin of Mahmud Ali Assaf, a comrade killed in Syria, during his funeral in Hay al-Sellom neighborhood in the southern suburbs of Beirut on February 24 ,2014.

BEIRUT - Bent on halting any transfer of weapons to Lebanon's Hezbollah, Israel has bombarded a position of the powerful Shiite group on the Lebanon-Syria border, sources say.

On Monday night, "two Israeli raids hit a Hezbollah target on the border of Lebanon and Syria," a Lebanese security source told AFP.

Lebanon's National News Agency confirmed the report, adding that the raids targeted the countryside of the Lebanese town of Nabi Sheet on the border.

Hezbollah is an arch-enemy of Israel, and has sent thousands of fighters across the border to aid Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime as it battles Sunni-led rebels.

Syria has long provided arms and other aid to Hezbollah, and served as a key conduit of Iranian military aid to the movement, which battled Israel to a bloody stalemate in 2006.

There was no official comment on the raids from Hezbollah, the Lebanese government, Syria or Israel.

Residents of Nabi Sheet told AFP they saw flares light up the sky ahead of the raids, which shook their houses.

People in neighbouring areas said they heard planes flying low and that the target appeared to be a Hezbollah position in the mountains near the town.

Nabi Sheet is a bastion of Hezbollah, and the group has a suspected weapons store and training camp there.

The morning after the attack, the Israeli army refused to comment, but Israel's media implied the Jewish state's air force was behind the strikes.

Israel's top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot ran the front page headline, "Foreign reports: Israeli strike in Lebanon", while referring to strikes Israel implicitly admitted carrying out against Hezbollah in Syria last year.

Israel 'monitoring arms transfers'

Other media pointed to weekend remarks by Israeli army chief Lieutenant General Benny Gantz who warned against arms transfer from Syria to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

"We are monitoring closely the transfer of all types of weapons to all fronts," Gantz was quoted as saying.

"Sometimes, in case of necessity, something can happen," he said.

Lebanon's Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is close to Hezbollah, said the raids took place inside Syria, saying "the nature of the target was unclear."

Lebanon's army did not confirm there had been any strikes, but it reported violations of Lebanese airspace by Israel.

Waddah Charara, a sociology professor and author of "The State of Hezbollah," said the raids could mark an important turning point if there was confirmation they took place in Lebanese territory.

"It would be the first Israeli strike against Hezbollah in Lebanon" since the 2006 war, Charara told AFP.

He said Hezbollah had helped "legitimise these raids in Lebanon" by involving itself in the Syrian conflict.

"So long as Hezbollah limited its war operations to within national boundaries, it could enjoy political immunity," he said.

"But the moment that it violated that national boundary, and became a regional force subordinate to Syrian interests, it became a target for Israel and no longer enjoyed the protection accorded by the 'nationalist' character of its actions."

Fighting across Syria

Hezbollah enjoyed widespread support during the 2006 conflict with Israel, but its popularity has diminished in recent years, and its decision to participate in the Syrian conflict is controversial.

Now, "Israel can attack Lebanon because it knows there will be no reactions at the national level," said Charara.

In Syria meanwhile, fighting raged in flashpoints across the country on Tuesday, with Hezbollah joining army troops battling opposition fighters in key fronts, chiefly around Damascus and Aleppo.

In northern Syria's Aleppo province, Islamist rebels took control of key regime positions around Azizeh village, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, killing at least 18 army troops in the fighting.

Azizeh is strategically located southeast of Aleppo city, once Syria's commercial capital, where the army has been pushing an advance in recent weeks.

Also on Monday, 14 people, including two children, were killed in an air strike on Nashabiyeh near Damascus, said the Observatory, a Britain-based group that relies on activists and other witnesses inside Syria.

On Tuesday, Syrian pro-regime newspaper Al-Baath quoted Assad as saying Damascus has played a key role in Syria's "resilience."

Some areas of Damascus saw a rebel onslaught and fighting during the summer of 2012, but the army pushed opposition fighters back out to the edges of the capital within a fortnight.

The army has since fought hard to secure Damascus and has in recent weeks secured truces with several besieged, rebel-held neighbourhoods.