Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

Hezbollah fighters carry out a training exercise in Aaramta village in the Jezzine District of southern Lebanon on May 21, 2023. (AP/File)
Short Url
Updated 24 June 2024
Follow

Thousands of Iran-backed fighters offer to join Hezbollah in its fight against Israel

  • Almost daily exchanges of fire along Lebanon’s frontier with Israel threaten to escalate conflict
  • Last large-scale conflict between Israel, Hezbollah in 2006 killed 1,200 in Lebanon and 140 in Israel

BEIRUT: Thousands of fighters from Iran-backed groups in the Middle East are ready to come to Lebanon to join with the militant Hezbollah group in its battle with Israel if the simmering conflict escalates into a full-blown war, officials with Iran-backed factions and analysts say.
Almost daily exchanges of fire have occurred along Lebanon’s frontier with northern Israel since fighters from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip staged a bloody assault on southern Israel in early October that set off a war in Gaza.
The situation to the north worsened this month after an Israeli airstrike killed a senior Hezbollah military commander in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah retaliated by firing hundreds of rockets and explosive drones into northern Israel.
Israeli officials have threatened a military offensive in Lebanon if there is no negotiated end to push Hezbollah away from the border.
Over the past decade, Iran-backed fighters from Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan fought together in Syria’s 13-year conflict, helping tip the balance in favor of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Officials from Iran-backed groups say they could also join together again against Israel.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Wednesday that militant leaders from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and other countries have previously offered to send tens of thousands of fighters to help Hezbollah, but he said the group already has more than 100,000 fighters.
“We told them, thank you, but we are overwhelmed by the numbers we have,” Nasrallah said.
Nasrallah said the battle in its current form is using only a portion of Hezbollah’s manpower, an apparent reference to the specialized fighters who fire missiles and drones.
But that could change in the event of an all-out war. Nasrallah hinted at that possibility in a speech in 2017 in which he said fighters from Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Pakistan “will be partners” of such a war.
Officials from Lebanese and Iraqi groups backed by Iran say Iran-backed fighters from around the region will join in if war erupts on the the Lebanon-Israel border. Thousands of such fighters are already deployed in Syria and could easily slip through the porous and unmarked border.
Some of the groups have already staged attacks on Israel and its allies since the Israel-Hamas war started Oct. 7. The groups from the so-called “axis of resistance” say they are using a “unity of arenas strategy” and they will only stop fighting when Israel ends its offensive in Gaza against their ally, Hamas.
“We will be (fighting) shoulder to shoulder with Hezbollah” if an all-out war breaks out, one official with an Iran-backed group in Iraq told The Associated Press in Baghdad, insisting on speaking anonymously to discuss military matters. He refused to give further details.
The official, along with another from Iraq, said some advisers from Iraq are already in Lebanon.
An official with a Lebanese Iran-backed group, also insisting on anonymity, said fighters from Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces, Afghanistan’s Fatimiyoun, Pakistan Zeinabiyoun and the Iran-backed rebel group in Yemen known as Houthis could come to Lebanon to take part in a war.




Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces march during Al-Quds or Jerusalem Day in Baghdad, Iraq on June 8, 2019. (AP/File photo)

Qassim Qassir, an expert on Hezbollah, agreed the current fighting is mostly based on high technology such as firing missiles and does not need a large number of fighters. But if a war broke out and lasted for a long period, Hezbollah might need support from outside Lebanon, he said.
“Hinting to this matter could be (a message) that these are cards that could be used,” he said.
Israel is also aware of the possible influx of foreign fighters.
Eran Etzion, former head of policy planning for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said at a panel discussion hosted by the Washington-based Middle East Institute on Thursday that he sees “a high probability” of a “multi-front war.”
He said there could be intervention by the Houthis and Iraqi militias and a “massive flow of jihadists from (places) including Afghanistan, Pakistan” into Lebanon and into Syrian areas bordering Israel.
Daniel Hagari, Israel’s military spokesman, said in a televised statement this past week that since Hezbollah started its attacks on Israel on Oct. 8, it has fired more than 5,000 rockets, anti-tank missiles and drones toward Israel.
“Hezbollah’s increasing aggression is bringing us to the brink of what could be a wider escalation, one that could have devastating consequences for Lebanon and the entire region,” Hagari said. “Israel will continue fighting against Iran’s axis of evil on all fronts.”
Hezbollah officials have said they don’t want an all-out war with Israel but if it happens they are ready.




Houthi fighters march during a rally of support for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and against the US strikes on Yemen outside Sanaa on Jan. 22, 2024. (AP/File photo)

“We have taken a decision that any expansion, no matter how limited it is, will be faced with an expansion that deters such a move and inflicts heavy Israeli losses,” Hezbollah’s deputy leader, Naim Kassem, said in a speech this past week.
The UN special coordinator for Lebanon, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and the commander of the UN peacekeeping force deployed along Lebanon’s southern border, Lt. Gen. Aroldo Lázaro, said in a joint statement that “the danger of miscalculation leading to a sudden and wider conflict is very real.”
The last large-scale conflict between Israel and Hezbollah occurred in the summer of 2006, when the two fought a 34-day war that killed about 1,200 people in Lebanon and 140 in Israel.
Since the latest run of clashes began, more than 400 people have been killed in Lebanon, the vast majority of them fighters but including 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 16 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed. Tens of thousands have been displaced on both sides of the border.
Qassir, the analyst, said that if foreign fighters did join in, it would help them that they fought together in Syria in the past.
“There is a common military language between the forces of axis of resistance and this is very important in fighting a joint battle,” he said.=


Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Mounting home demolitions and settler attacks plunge a Palestinian village into crisis

  • Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions
  • Threats are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say

UMM AL-KHAIR, West Bank: First came the Israeli military bulldozers, which tore down a quarter of the homes in the West Bank Bedouin village of Umm Al-Khair. Then came the settler attacks.
In the aftermath, dozens of people were left homeless and without consistent access to water and electricity. Several were injured from pepper spray and sticks, and the village’s water pipe was cut — all, they said, as Israeli soldiers looked on.
”Where shall I go?” said Yasser Hathaleen, sitting near the rubble of his family’s homes, exposed to the blazing heat of summer with little to protect him. “To whom do I complain? I want a law to protect me. Where are the people of law?”
Bedouin communities in the West Bank face a double threat of rampant, unpunished Israeli settler violence and a frenzy of state-backed demolitions. Together, the two are pushing a growing number of Bedouin from their land and making any eventual independent Palestinian state a more distant reality, rights groups say.
The threats have intensified since the start of the war in Gaza, as settler violence surges across the West Bank — even as Israel faces growing international pressure to clamp down. Settler advocates hold key Israeli Cabinet positions that grant them important say over the West Bank, giving settlers greater control over their destiny in the territory.
Residents describe the escalating attacks
Settler violence and demolitions are nothing new in Umm Al-Khair, founded in the 1950s by traditionally nomadic people known as Bedouin, who settled there just after being uprooted from the Negev desert during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Two decades later, Umm Al-Khair fell under Israeli security control when Israel captured the West Bank. Though Palestinians seek the area as the heart of a future independent state, Israel has established a rash of settlements across the territory, viewed by the international community as illegal and an obstacle to peace.
Settler attacks, residents say, began in the 1980s, after Israel built the settlement of Carmel just meters away from Umm Al-Khair. Today, Carmel’s large houses and lush gardens sit across a barbed-wire fence from the village, whose pipes are not connected to the Israeli water network and whose homes of corrugated tin bake in the summer sun.
Settler attacks were sporadic but not debilitating, residents said, until settlers established an unauthorized outpost, called “Roots Farm,” on a nearby hilltop.
“Since then, this farm, their only goal is to target the community, to violate the people’s lives and to attack and insult people on a daily basis,” said 21-year-old Tariq Hathaleen, an English teacher in Umm Al-Khair. Most villagers bear the last name Hathaleen, all descendants of the village founder.
On July 1, in a particularly brutal recent attack described by residents and activists, settlers injured about 10 people in the village with sticks and pepper spray that made people’s eyes water.
“There were so many women on the ground, lying on the earth, struggling to breathe,” said Basel Adra, a Palestinian activist who was in Umm Al-Khair that day.
Videos taken by Palestinians in the village and sent to The Associated Press showed a man residents identified as the leader of the outpost clutching a rifle as he strides past Israeli soldiers into the village.
The military told AP the forces were there “to maintain the security of all residents of the area, and to act to prevent terrorism and activities that endanger the citizens of the State of Israel.”
In another video, taken July 3 by an Umm Al-Khair resident, young settlers are seen tampering with the village’s water pipes as soldiers look on. The military said soldiers helped repair the pipe soon after.
But residents said the pipe was damaged by settlers again days later, showing AP video of a settler near the freshly damaged pipe. When sent the video, the military told AP the pipe was damaged by erosion, not settlers.
To Tariq Hathaleen, the settlers and the state are working toward the same goal: expelling his community from their lands. Umm Al-Khair residents say they have lived there since they were expelled from the Negev during what’s referred to as the “Nakba” — Arabic for catastrophe — when roughly 700,000 Palestinians fled or were driven out of what today is Israel.
The residents showed AP handwritten contracts appearing to show land sales from neighboring Palestinian towns to the founder of the village, Tariq’s grandfather, during the period when Jordan controlled the West Bank.
COGAT, the Israeli military body coordinating humanitarian aid efforts, did not respond to a request for comment on land ownership in the area.
“There’s no legal pretext for soldiers to remove us from our land. So what the settlers do is they make our life the most hard life, so we eventually leave on our own,” said Tariq Hathaleen.
Outposts and settlements are growing
As some settlers expand their network of unauthorized farming outposts atop West Bank hilltops — which rights groups say are the primary drivers of violence and displacement in the territory — others in Israel’s far-right government turbocharge settlement in the territory. In the last month alone, Israel’s government has legalized five formerly unauthorized settlements and made the largest land grab in the West Bank in three decades, declaring a wide swath of the territory state land.
Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, the UN says settler violence across the West Bank has displaced 1,260 Palestinians, including 600 children, from their homes in Bedouin villages such as Umm Al-Khair.
The UN documented 1,000 settler attacks in the West Bank in the nine months since the start of the Israel-Hamas war, averaging four attacks a day. That’s double the daily average during the same period last year, according to AIDA, a coalition of nonprofits and other groups working in the territory. The violence has killed 10 people in total, including two children, and has injured 234 people, the group says.
With the rapid and easy establishment of farming outposts, rights groups say, settlers can expand their control of the territory through violence, effectively pushing the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state further from reach.
Outposts are now “one of the primary methods employed by Israel to take over areas in the West Bank and to expel Palestinian communities,” said a July report from Israeli rights group B’Tselem.
The crisis in the West Bank has reached such heights that Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fox, the outgoing Israeli general overseeing the territory, used his farewell speech July 8 to denounce settler violence.
“Under the auspices of the war, and the desire for revenge, it sowed chaos and fear in Palestinian residents who did not pose any threat,” he said. He accused settler leaders of not doing enough to halt the violence.
Legality of structures is disputed
Naomi Kahn, head of the international division at settler organization Regavim, describes Umm Al-Khair as an “illegal squatters camp” on land that belongs to Israel.
Following the recent round of demolitions, the Israeli military told AP that the structures were illegal and that their construction had been carried out “in complete violation of the law.”
Palestinians have long said that securing Israeli permission to build in the West Bank is nearly impossible.
“They knock down our homes, and then we rebuild,” shepherd Bilal Hathaleen said. “They come to knock them down again, so we will rebuild. We are not going anywhere.”


Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Tel Aviv blast leaves 1 dead, caused by ‘falling aerial target’

  • Emergency services said the explosion took place around 0015 GMT in a building in the center of the city
  • Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects

TEL AVIV: An explosion in Tel Aviv early Friday left one person dead, an Israeli emergency services spokesperson said, with the army saying a falling “aerial target” caused the blast.

Emergency services said the explosion took place around 03:15 am (0015 GMT) in a building in the center of the city. Two people were lightly injured, Zaki Heller of the Magen David Adom medical service said.

An earlier police report had said seven people were injured, but they were mainly in a state of shock, Heller added.

The army said an initial inquiry showed that the explosion was “caused by the falling of an aerial target.”

“No sirens were activated,” it said in a statement, adding that the air force had “increased its air patrols in order to protect Israeli airspace.”

A resident of central Tel Aviv said he had been woken by a loud explosion.

“Everything shook,” he said.

Police found a body bearing injuries caused by shrapnel in the building, which is located on the corner of Ben-Yehuda Avenue and Shalom-Aleichem Street, not far from an annex of the US Embassy in Israel, spokesperson Dean Elsdunne said.

“It may have been an aerial explosion... We were very lucky,” said Peretz Amar, a Tel Aviv police commander at the scene, adding an investigation was “ongoing.”

“The police, along with emergency and rescue forces, discovered a man in his 50s in a nearby building who was found dead in his apartment, with shrapnel wounds on his body,” a police statement said.

Another 10 people with minor injuries were taken for medical treatment, it said.

Police and bomb disposal units were deployed to the scene and conducted searches for suspicious objects and additional threats, the statement added.

Residents were urged to “respect safety instructions and not to approach or touch debris or shrapnel that may contain explosives,” it said.


UN court opinion due on occupied Palestinian land

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

UN court opinion due on occupied Palestinian land

  • Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice would be non-binding
  • But it comes amid mounting concern over Israel’s war against Hamas

THE HAGUE: The UN’s top court will on Friday hand down its view on the legal consequences of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967, amid growing international pressure over the war in Gaza.
Any opinion delivered by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) would be non-binding, but it comes amid mounting concern over Israel’s war against Hamas sparked by the group’s brutal October 7 attacks.
A separate high-profile case brought before the court by South Africa alleges that Israel has committed genocidal acts during its Gaza offensive.
Judges will read their findings at 1300 GMT at the opulent Peace Palace in The Hague, the home of the ICJ.
The UN’s General Assembly asked the ICJ in late 2022 to give an “advisory opinion” on the “legal consequences arising from the policies and practices of Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”
The ICJ held a week-long session in February to hear submissions from countries following the request — supported by most countries within the Assembly.
Most speakers too during the hearings called on Israel to end its 57-year occupation. They warned a prolonged occupation posed an “extreme danger” to stability in the Middle East and beyond.
But the United States said Israel should not be legally obliged to withdraw without taking its “very real security needs” into account.
Israel did not take part in the oral hearings.
Instead, it submitted a written contribution in which it described the questions the court had been asked as “prejudicial” and “tendentious.”
The General Assembly has asked the ICJ to consider two questions.
Firstly, the court should examine the legal consequences of what the UN called “the ongoing violation by Israel of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.”
This relates to the “prolonged occupation, settlement and annexation of the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” and “measures aimed at altering the demographic composition, character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem.”
In June 1967, Israel crushed some of its Arab neighbors in a six-day war, seizing the West Bank including east Jerusalem from Jordan, the Golan Heights from Syria, and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt.
Israel then began to settle the 70,000 square kilometers (27,000 square miles) of seized Arab territory.
The UN later declared the occupation of Palestinian territory illegal, and Cairo regained Sinai under its 1979 peace deal with Israel.
The ICJ has also been asked to look into the consequences of what it described as Israel’s “adoption of related discriminatory legislation and measures.”
Secondly, the ICJ should advise on how Israel’s actions “affect the legal status of the occupation” and what are the consequences for the UN and other countries.
The ICJ rules in disputes between states. Normally, its judgments are binding although it has little means to enforce them.
In this case however, the opinion it issues will be non-binding, although most advisory opinions are in fact acted upon.


Vessel hit by projectiles southeast of Yemen’s Aden, UKMTO and Ambrey say

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Vessel hit by projectiles southeast of Yemen’s Aden, UKMTO and Ambrey say

  • All crew are reported safe, UKMTO said in an advisory note

CAIRO: A vessel was hit by unknown projectiles 83 nautical miles southeast of Yemen’s Aden early on Friday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations and British security firm Ambrey said.

All crew were reported safe, UKMTO said in an advisory note, and Ambrey, in a separate advisory, said the vessel was a Singapore-flagged container ship.

“The ship was transiting northeast along the Gulf of Aden when a merchant vessel in the vicinity observed ‘light and blast’ where the ship was located,” Ambrey added.

The British security firm said the ship appeared to perform evasive maneuvers immediately and switch off her automatic identification system approximately an hour later.

Ambrey assessed the vessel to be aligned with the Houthi target profile.

Since November, Houthi militants in Yemen have launched drone and missile strikes in shipping lanes in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. The group has said its actions are in solidarity with Palestinians affected by Israel’s war in Gaza.

Britain and the US have conducted retaliatory strikes since February, shooting down drones and bombing attack sites in Yemen.


Senior Hezbollah commander among 5 reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon

Updated 19 July 2024
Follow

Senior Hezbollah commander among 5 reported dead in Israel strikes on Lebanon

  • Hezbollah said two of its members were among the dead, including Ali Jaafar Maatouq, said to be a commander of the elite Al Radwan operational unit
  • A separate Israeli strike on Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley killed Mohamad Jbara, a commander of Jamaa Islamiya, a military group close to Hamas

BEIRUT: Israeli strikes on Thursday killed at least five people, including the commander of a Hamas-allied group in Lebanon, militant groups and a security source said.
Since Hamas's October 7 attack on Israel sparked war in Gaza, Israel has repeatedly targeted militants of Jamaa Islamiya, whose armed wing has launched attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon over the past nine months.
A Lebanese security source said that an Israeli strike on a house near the southern village of Jmaijmeh killed three people and wounded several more.
Hezbollah said two of its members were among the dead, including Ali Jaafar Maatouq. A source close to the Islamist group described him as a commander of its elite Al Radwan operational unit.
The Israeli army confirmed that its air force had "eliminated" Ali Jaafar Maatouq in a strike against "a command centre where Hezbollah terrorists were operating in the Jmaijmeh region".
Hezbollah earlier announced the death of another member in an Israeli raid in southern Lebanon. The Israeli army confirmed that it had killed him "in the Qana area", adding that he had been "involved in numerous attacks against Israel".
The army said it killed another Al Radwan commander in Majdal Selm, near Jmaijmeh, which was not immediately confirmed by Lebanese sources.

Jamaa Islamiya, a military group close to Hamas, said in a statement that its commander Mohamad Jbara had died in a "despicable Zionist raid" in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley.
Hamas's armed wing also announced Jbara's death and said he was one of its commanders.
Lebanon's state-run National News Agency said Jbara was killed when an "enemy drone" targeted his vehicle in the village of Ghazze.
The Israeli military said it "eliminated" Jbara in a strike, who was "responsible for carrying out terror attacks and missile launches" against Israel.
Jamaa Islamiya, formed in the 1960s, has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon.
The cross-border violence since October has killed 516 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally. Most of the dead have been fighters, but they have also included at least 104 civilians.
On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and 13 civilians have been killed, according to authorities.
The violence has raised fears of all-out conflict between the two foes, who last went to war in the summer of 2006.