Israeli army says drone comes under fire over Lebanese skies
JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli drone came under anti-aircraft fire Wednesday during a routine operation over the skies of Lebanon, the Israeli military said, but the aircraft was not hit and continued on its mission.
It was the latest sign of rising tensions between Israel and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Israeli warplanes and drones violate Lebanon’s airspace almost daily, sometimes to carry out airstrikes against Hezbollah-allied Iranian targets in neighboring Syria. Early on Wednesday, residents of southern Beirut reported low-flying Israeli reconnaissance aircraft buzzing overhead for hours. The area is a stronghold of Hezbollah.
The frequency of low-flying warplanes over Beirut and other parts of Lebanon has intensified in the past weeks, making residents jittery.
Hezbollah claimed earlier this week to have shot down an Israeli drone. Israel said the unmanned aerial vehicle crashed.
Israel and Hezbollah fought a monthlong war in 2006 that ended in a stalemate.
Israel accuses Hezbollah of violating the terms of a U.N. cease-fire and says its overflights are needed to keep an eye on the group. Lebanon has routinely complained to the U.N. about Israel’s daily violations of its airspace and mock raids around the country.
Israeli officials say Hezbollah has amassed a stockpile over some 150,000 rockets and missiles capable of striking anywhere in the country. It also accuses the group of trying to develop and produce sophisticated precision-guided missiles.
Hezbollah’s leader recently boasted that the group now has twice as many precision-guided missiles as it had a year ago. But he strongly denied Israeli claims about Hezbollah having factories to produce such missiles in Lebanon.
In a major policy address last week, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Israel’s military commander, accused Hezbollah of storing its missiles in populated areas of Lebanon and said these areas will not be spared if war erupts.
He said residents would be given time to flee ahead of time, but “because these areas are flooded with rockets and missiles, they will be flooded with attacks by the Israeli army.”