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Hezbollah fires rockets at Israel in response to killing of top Hamas leader

The Israeli military said about 40 rockets were fired toward Meron and that a base was targeted

Hezbollah fired dozens of rockets from Lebanon into northern Israel on Saturday, warning that the barrage was its initial response to the targeted killing, presumably by Israel, of a top Hamas leader in Lebanon’s capital earlier this week.

The rocket attack came a day after Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said his group must retaliate for the killing of Saleh Arouri, the deputy political leader of the militia’s ally Hamas, in a Hezbollah stronghold south of Beirut. He said if Hezbollah did not strike back, all of Lebanon would be vulnerable to Israeli attack. He appeared to be making his case for a response to the Lebanese public, even at the risk of escalating the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel as the war between Israel and Hamas rages on.

Hezbollah said it launched 62 rockets toward an Israeli air surveillance base on Mount Meron and that it scored direct hits. It said rockets also struck two army posts near the border. The Israeli military said about 40 rockets were fired toward Meron and that a base was targeted, but made no mention of the base being hit. It said it struck the Hezbollah cell that fired the rockets.

Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon hit the outskirts of Kouthariyeh al-Siyad village, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the border, Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency said, adding that there were casualties. Such strikes deeper inside Lebanon have been rare since the border fighting started nearly three months ago. NNA also said Israeli forces shelled border areas including the town of Khiam. Israel’s army had no immediate comment.

Separately, the armed wing of the Islamic Group in Lebanon, the country’s branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and a close ally of Hamas, said it fired two volleys of rockets toward the Israeli city of Kiryat Shmona on Friday night. Two of the group’s members were killed in the strike that killed Arouri.

The cross-border escalation came as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was kicking off an urgent Middle East diplomatic tour, his fourth to the region since the Israel-Hamas war erupted three months ago. The war was triggered by a deadly Hamas attack on southern Israel in which militants killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and took roughly 250 hostages.

“It is imperative to avoid a regional escalation in the Middle East. It is absolutely necessary to avoid Lebanon being dragged into a regional conflict,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said during a visit to Beirut.

In recent weeks, Israel has been scaling back its military assault in northern Gaza and pressing its heavy offensive in the territory’s south, vowing to crush Hamas. In the south, most of Gaza’s 2.3 million Palestinians are being squeezed into smaller areas in a humanitarian disaster while still being pounded by Israeli airstrikes.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said 122 Palestinians had been killed over the past 24 hours, bringing the total since the start of the war to 22,722. The count does not differentiate between combatants and civilians. The ministry has said two-thirds of those killed have been women or children. The overall number of wounded rose to 58,166, the ministry said.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs hospital in the central city of Deir al-Balah received at least 46 bodies overnight, according to hospital records seen by The Associated Press. Many were men who apparently had been shot. Fighting has raged between Israeli forces and militants in the area. The dead also included five members of a family who were killed in an airstrike, the records showed.

The latest Israeli-dropped leaflets urged Palestinians in some areas near the hospital to evacuate, citing “dangerous fighting.”

In the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis, the focus of Israel’s ground offensive, the European Hospital received the bodies of 18 people who were killed in an overnight airstrike on a house in the city’s Maan neighborhood, said Saleh al-Hamms, head of the hospital’s nursing department. Citing witnesses, he said more than three dozen people had been sheltering in the house, including some who had been displaced.

Israel has held Hamas responsible for civilian casualties, saying the group has embedded itself within Gaza’s civilian infrastructure. Still, international criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war has grown because of the rising civilian death toll. The United States has urged Israel to do more to prevent harm to civilians, even as it keeps sending weapons and munitions while shielding its close ally against international censure.

Blinken began his latest Mideast trip in Turkey on Saturday. The Biden administration believes Turkey and others can exert influence, particularly on Iran and its proxies, to tamp down fears of a regional conflagration. Those fears have spiked in recent days with incidents in the Red Sea, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran.

In talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, Blinken sought Turkish support for nascent plans for post-war Gaza that could include monetary or in-kind contributions to reconstruction efforts and some form of participation in a proposed multinational force that could operate in or adjacent to the territory.

From Turkey, Blinken was traveling to Turkish rival and fellow NATO ally Greece to meet Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis at his home on the island of Crete. Mitsotakis and his government have been supportive of U.S. efforts to prevent the Israel-Hamas war from spreading and have signaled their willingness to assist should the situation deteriorate.

Other stops on the trip include Jordan, followed by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia on Sunday and Monday. Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank next week before wrapping up the trip in Egypt.

The EU’s foreign policy chief also will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday. He said that he aims to jump-start a European-Arab initiative to revive a peace process that would result in a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bassem Mroue, Samy Magdy And Najib Jobain, The Associated Press

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