Following Israeli strikes on Iran-linked targets in Iraq and Palestinian terrorists operating in Lebanon, officials in those countries characterized Israel’s actions as a “declaration of war.”
By Associated Press
Israeli drones struck a Palestinian terror base in eastern Lebanon near the border with Syria early Monday amid rising tensions in the Middle East, the Lebanese state-run National News Agency and a Palestinian official said.
The strike came a day after Hezbollah claimed an Israeli drone crashed in a stronghold of the Lebanese terror group in southern Beirut while another exploded and crashed nearby. Military experts in Israel identified the drone models in published photos as belonging to Iran.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun told the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, that the attacks violate a U.N. Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
“What happened is equal to a declaration of war and gives us the right to defend our sovereignty, independence, and the safety of our land,” Aoun said in comments released by his office Monday. “We are people who seek peace and not war, and we don’t accept anyone threatening us though any means.”
The state news agency said there were three strikes after midnight on Sunday, minutes apart, that struck a base for a Syrian-backed terror group known as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command, an ally of Hezbollah.
Abu Wael Issam, an official with the Palestinian group in Lebanon, told The Associated Press that the strike was carried out by Israeli drones and did not inflict any casualties.
He said the Palestinian group’s “alternatives are open in confronting the Zionist enemy” but didn’t specify how or if it would retaliate. A statement issued later by the group said “the Zionist aggression” will not stop the group and its allies.
There was no immediate comment from Israel on the strike, which the Lebanese news agency said hit near the village of Qusaya in the eastern Bekaa Valley. Airstrikes by Israel against Palestinian factions in Lebanon, such as this one, have been rare in the past years.
Terror group vows ‘retaliation’
Hezbollah arch-terrorist Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday that his group will confront and shoot down any Israeli drones that enter Lebanese airspace from now on, raising the potential for conflict amid heightened regional tensions.
Nasrallah also vowed to retaliate for an Israeli airstrike inside Syria that took place late Saturday, which he said killed two Hezbollah members.
He said allowing Israel to keep flying drones over Lebanon would lead to a similar situation as in Iraq, where a series of attacks there targeting military bases and weapons depot belonging to Iranian-backed Shiite militias have left the country on edge.
U.S. officials say at least one of the airstrikes on the militia in Iraq was carried out by Israel.
In Saturday’s strikes near the Syrian capital, Damascus, Israel publicly stated it was thwarting an imminent drone strike against Israel by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.
The Lebanese news agency also reported that Israeli drones flew over parts of southern Lebanon on Monday.
Hezbollah and Israel fought a monthlong war in 2006. The volatile border between the two countries, which remain technically in a state of war, has been mostly calm since that conflict.
‘A declaration of war on Iraq’
Meanwhile, in Iraq a powerful bloc in the parliament called on Monday for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, following a series of airstrikes targeting Iran-backed Shiite militias in the country that have been blamed on Israel.
The Fatah Coalition said it holds the United States fully responsible for the alleged Israeli aggression, “which we consider to be a declaration of war on Iraq and its people.” The coalition is a parliament bloc representing Iran-backed paramilitary militias known as the Popular Mobilization Forces.
The coalition’s statement came a day after a drone strike in the western Iraqi town of Qaim killed a commander with the forces — the latest in strikes apparently conducted by Israel against the Iranian-backed militias in Iraq. It added that U.S. troops are no longer needed in Iraq.
The Shiite militiamen, meanwhile, held a funeral procession in Baghdad for the commander killed Sunday, marching behind a banner with the words “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
Some trampled on an American flag as they marched.
Anger is mounting in Iraq following a spate of mysterious airstrikes that have targeted military bases and weapons depot belonging to Iran-backed militias. The drone attacks have not been claimed by any side but U.S. officials have said Israel was behind at least one of the attacks that killed two Iranian commanders on July 19.
The Shiite militias have blamed the attacks on Israel but hold its ally the United States ultimately responsible.
“These strikes won’t break us, they’ll make us stronger,” the militias’ Lt. Gen. Hussein Abed Muttar told The Associated Press at the funeral.
Along with the commander, another member of the Shiite militia was also killed in the drone attack on Sunday evening near the Qaim border crossing with Syria. The attack targeted vehicles belonging to the Hezbollah Brigades faction, also known as Brigade 45, which operate under the umbrella of the state-sanctioned Shiite militias.
U.S. forces withdrew from Iraq in 2011, but returned in 2014 at the invitation of the government to help battle the Islamic State group after it seized vast areas in the north and west of the country, including Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. A U.S.-led coalition provided crucial air support as Iraqi forces regrouped and, together with the PMF, drove IS out in a costly three-year campaign.
ISIS and Iran
The U.S. maintains about 5,000 troops in Iraq, and some groups say there’s no longer a justification for them to be there now that IS has been defeated.
“While we reserve the right to respond to these Zionist attacks, we hold the international coalition, particularly the United States, fully responsible for this aggression which we consider a declaration of war on Iraq and its people,” the statement by the Fatah Coalition said.
Iraqi President Barham Saleh hosted a meeting later Monday that included the prime minister and parliament speaker as well as PMF militia leaders to discuss the recent attacks.
A statement issued after the meeting avoided blaming the drone attacks on any specific country, but described it as a “blatant act of aggression” aimed at dragging the PMF away from its ongoing role of eradicating remnants of ISIS.
Absent from the meeting were the leaders of two of the most powerful factions strongly allied to Iran, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Qais al-Khazali. An official who attended the meeting said they were in Iran.