Israel kills Hezbollah ‘commander’ after spy balloon downed

The border fighting has escalated in recent weeks, with more sophisticated attacks by Hezbollah [Getty]

A Hezbollah field commander was killed in an Israeli drone strike in south Lebanon on Tuesday night, Israel and the Lebanese group confirmed on Wednesday.

In a statement, the Iran-backed Shia group mourned Hussein Ibrahim Makki, born in 1969, who was from the southern village of Beit Yahoun.

His role in Hezbollah was not identified by the group, but the Israeli military says he was a senior commander in Hezbollah’s Southern Front unit.

The Israeli army published footage of the strike which hit Makki’s car on the road connecting the coastal city of Tyre to its suburb of Haouch.

The Arabic-language spokesman for the Israeli military, Avichay Adraee, claimed Makki was responsible for planning and implementing numerous operations against Israel during the months-long border clashes.

It brings the total death toll of Hezbollah fighters killed since cross-border clashes erupted on 8 October to 297. More fighters from other armed factions, as well as civilians in Lebanon, have been killed including children.

Hezbollah and Israel have been in engaged in fighting since the war on Gaza started.

Hezbollah, which backs the Palestinian Hamas group, says its open front with Israel is a distraction tactic aimed at turning some of Israeli military’s attention away from the devastated Gaza Strip, where ferocious and indiscriminate Israeli attacks have killed at least 35,173 people.

The clashes have seen a dangerous escalation from both sides in recent weeks – Hezbollah has resorted to using more sophisticated weaponry, downing Israeli drones and launching missiles deeper into Israel’s north.

Israel has levelled several Lebanese border villages and has carried out airstrikes in regions far from the border – such as the Baalbek district of eastern Lebanon – in areas where Hezbollah has strong influence.

The attack on Makki’s vehicle came hours after a Hezbollah anti-tank guided missile killed one Israeli and wounded five others in the northern kibbutz of Adamit.

Hezbollah said it targeted an Israeli military centre which was operating a spy balloon with three missiles, resulting in the downing of the balloon over the south Lebanon border village of Rmaych. Images and videos shared on social media show the moment the balloon fell with civilians inspecting it.

The Israeli army claimed that there was “no fear of information being taken from the sensors and cameras on the balloon”.

Israel says 10 civilians and 14 soldiers have died in the cross-border fighting, but Hezbollah claims the actual number is higher.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced on both sides of the border. Residents of northern Israel evacuated from their homes have pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government to take decisive action against Hezbollah, refusing to return to their towns if the Lebanese group is still present on the border.

US and French-led mediation efforts are seeking to end hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel and implement a UN Security Council Resolution which ended the 2006 summer war between the two sides.

The deal would also finalise the border demarcation between the two countries with Israel still occupying some Lebanese land.

Hezbollah has refused a ceasefire before the devastating war on Gaza ends, and Israel has threatened to wage a full-scale attack in Lebanon if diplomatic efforts fail.

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