Hezbollah said Wednesday that Israel had carried out an airstrike in Lebanon earlier in the week, targeting one of its positions near the border with Syria. The attack marks a new level of escalation in a region beset by chaos, bloodshed and waves of refugees.
Hezbollah, an armed Shia Muslim group allied with Iran and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, vowed to retaliate for the strike.
"The new aggression is a blatant assault on Lebanon and its sovereignty and its territory ... The resistance (Hezbollah) will choose the time and place and the proper way to respond to it," Hezbollah said in a statement.
The strike, which Israel confirmed, hit the Lebanese-Syrian border near the Bekaa Valley village of Janta, Hezbollah said. The group denied reports that the strike targeted artillery, adding that there were no casualties.
Lebanese security sources said they believed the attack took place on Syrian soil, but Hezbollah's reference to Lebanese sovereignty suggests it occurred on the Lebanese side of the ill-defined frontier.
Israeli planes have struck areas on the Syrian side of the border several times in the past two years. But if confirmed, an airstrike on Hezbollah in Lebanon would be the first since the Syrian revolt began in 2011.
In August 2013, an Israeli airstrike hit armed fighters in a Palestinian refugee camp in southern Lebanon.
Israel struck a Syrian military installation near Damascus in May 2013, saying Iranian-made missiles there were meant for Hezbollah hands. Israel and Hezbollah are at odds over Israel’s military occupation of territory in southern Lebanon.
Israel has voiced alarm that amid the chaos in Syria’s three-year-old civil war, weapons could be transferred to Hezbollah, which is supporting Assad's fight against rebel groups. However, Israel says it does not want to become embroiled in the conflict.
Israel's military chief, Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, reiterated those fears on Sunday, a day before the strike, when he accused Iran, Assad's ally and Hezbollah's patron, of moving weapons to the armed group.
"There is no theater in which Iran is not involved — giving out, if you like, torches to pyromaniacs — whether this is munitions or missiles or intervention in the fighting," he said.
Israel's Channel 10 television on Tuesday broadcast what it said were satellite images of the locations struck, which appeared to show missile silos being readied for weapons.
The Lebanese army reported that four Israeli planes had flown across north Lebanon on Monday night toward the Bekaa Valley before heading southwest toward the Mediterranean near Lebanon's southern border with Israel. Israeli jets regularly fly through Lebanese airspace without permission.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not claim or deny the strike but said on Tuesday that Israel would "do everything required to safeguard the security of the citizens of Israel."
Al Jazeera and Reuters