Hezbollah Says It Downed Israeli Drone in Latest Flare-up Between the Iran-backed Group and Israel

The drone is now in Hezbollah's possession, the group said in a statement

File photo: Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, November 2014.
Hussein Malla,AP

Hezbollah said it downed an Israeli drone in southern Lebanon on Monday, in the latest flare-up raising tensions between the Iran-backed group and Israel, a week after the group's leader said it would shoot down Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace.

The drone is now in Hezbollah's possession, the group said in a statement.

An Israeli military statement said one of its drones "fell inside southern Lebanon during routine operations". It did not say why the drone crashed, but said "there is no concern information could be taken from it". An Israeli military spokeswoman said it was a "simple drone" without elaborating.

Hezbollah said its fighters had used "appropriate weapons" to bring down the drone on the edge of the southern Lebanese town of Ramyah.

Reporting from the Israel-Lebanon border, a correspondent for Hezbollah's al-Manar television said the drone had not sustained much damage, and had been in Lebanese airspace for around five minutes.

In a separate incident, eighteen Iran-back militia members were killed in a drone strike in eastern Syria, the British-based watchdog said on Monday. The Assad regime and Syrian state media didn't report the incident.

On Monday, the Israeli army said it identified a several launches from Syria that failed to cross over to Israel. They were carried out by Shi'te militias led by Iran's Quds Force from the outskirts of Damascus, the statement said, adding it considered the Assad regime responsible for any action that takes place under its sovereignty.

Israel, which is alarmed by Iran's growing influence in the region through militia allies in countries including Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria. It wants to stop Iran establishing a permanent military presence there and has struck against advanced weapon shipments to Hezbollah.

Amid rising tensions in the region, Israel also raised the stakes last week by accusing Hezbollah, with Iranian assistance, of setting up a factory for precision-guided missiles in Lebanon's Bekaa valley.

Hezbollah has denied having production sites in Lebanon, but says it does possess precision-guided missiles.

DRONE ATTACK

A week ago, after a drone attack in a Hezbollah-controlled Beirut suburb, Hezbollah and the Israeli army exchanged cross-border fire that marked their fiercest shelling exchange since the 2006 Lebanon war.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah blamed Israel for the drone attack and had vowed to target Israeli drones entering Lebanon's airspace.

Lebanon's government, which also blamed the drone attack on Israel, has repeatedly complained to the United Nations about Israel, which Beirut considers an enemy country, breaching its airspace.

Nasrallah said while last Sunday's flare-up with Israel at the border was over, the episode had launched a "new phase" in which the Iran-backed group no longer had red lines it would not cross.

In that brief exchange of fire, Hezbollah said it destroyed an Israeli armoured vehicle, killing and wounding those inside, and broadcast what it said was footage of two missiles hitting a moving vehicle.

Israel said it had faked soldier casualties to dampen any inclination of Hezbollah to escalate hostilities.

Last week's drone attacks and cross-border shelling came after Hezbollah, whose forces have fought in support of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria's war, said two of its men were killed in an Israeli strike in Syria late last month.

Israel said its attack in Syria thwarted an Iran-led drone strike against it.

A Reuters witness at the Lebanese border near where the drone fell said the area was calm on Monday morning.

Any new war between Israel and Hezbollah would raise the risk of a wider conflict in the Middle East, at a time when Iran is defying U.S. attempts to force it to renegotiate a 2015 nuclear deal it reached with world powers.