Israel Declares Closed Military Zone Near Lebanon Border Over Hezbollah Demonstrations

Hezbollah demonstrations mark first anniversary of killing of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, as Tehran accuses Israel of stoking war with U.S.

Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel
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Members of Hezbollah stand near a flag with a picture of Qassem Soleimani, during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of his killing in the southern Lebanese village of Khiam, January 3, 2021.
Members of Hezbollah stand near a flag with a picture of Qassem Soleimani, during a ceremony marking the first anniversary of his killing in the southern Lebanese village of Khiam, January 3, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Aziz Taher
Noa Shpigel
Noa Shpigel

The Israeli army declared the area surrounding Metula, near the border between Israel and Lebanon, as a closed military zone on Sunday ahead of Hezbollah protests on the Lebanese side of the border marking one year since the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.

Residents of Metula were warned to be prepared for protests to take place throughout the week. The military said the expected demonstrations in Lebanon had prompted a decree allowing it to declare a closed military zone if necessary, and that the area was temporarily made a military zone between Sunday morning, when a few dozen people congregated on the other side of the border, and later in the day, when the crowd dwindled. 

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Speaking on the anniversary of the U.S. killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani by a drone strike in Iraq on Saturday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged U.S. President Donald Trump not to be "trapped" by an alleged Israeli plan to provoke a war through attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq.

"New intelligence from Iraq indicate(s) that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans - putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli (act justifying war)," Zarif said in a tweet. "Be careful of a trap, @realDonaldTrump. Any fireworks will backfire badly," Zarif wrote.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Sunday that it was Israel that needed to be on alert for possible Iranian strikes.

On Friday, Esmail Ghaani, who succeeded Soleimani as head of the elite Quds Force, said Iran was still ready to respond. "From inside your own house, there may emerge someone who will retaliate for your crime," he said at a televised event to mark the anniversary at Tehran University. "American mischief will not deter the Quds force from carrying on its resistance path," he added.

The United States killed Soleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, in Iraq on January 3, 2020. Washington had accused him of masterminding attacks by Iranian-aligned militias on U.S. forces in the region.

Days after the U.S. drone strike, Iran retaliated with a rocket attack on an Iraqi air base where U.S. forces were stationed, and Iranian forces on high alert mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner taking off from Tehran.

Two U.S. B-52 bombers flew over the Middle East on Wednesday in what U.S. officials said was a message of deterrence to Iran ahead of the first anniversary.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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