Lenderking in the Region to Push Forward Peace in Yemen

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. (US State Department)
US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. (US State Department)
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Lenderking in the Region to Push Forward Peace in Yemen

US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. (US State Department)
US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking. (US State Department)

The US State Department called on Monday the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen to “immediately cease their attacks on Yemeni ports” and to engage in peace efforts.

It added that US Special Envoy for Yemen Tim Lenderking started travel on November 27 to Oman and Saudi Arabia to support ongoing peace efforts.

“The environment created by the UN-mediated truce presents the best opportunity Yemen has had for peace in several years,” continued the State Department in a statement.

“At this critical moment, we remind the Houthis that Yemenis are calling for peace, not a return to war,” it said.

“To that end, we call on the Houthis to immediately cease their attacks on Yemeni ports, which are disrupting the flow of much-needed resources and exacerbating suffering across Yemen. Such attacks only risk plunging Yemenis into another pointless cycle of violence and suffering,” it added.

“We urge the Houthis to instead seize this opportunity for peace, cooperate with the UN, and accept that the only path forward to ending eight years of destructive war is through a negotiated, inclusive Yemeni-led political settlement,” it stressed.



Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Seeks Calm with Washington after Nujaba’s Threat 

Head of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim meets with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on Monday. (National Wisdom Movement)
Head of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim meets with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on Monday. (National Wisdom Movement)
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Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Seeks Calm with Washington after Nujaba’s Threat 

Head of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim meets with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on Monday. (National Wisdom Movement)
Head of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement Ammar al-Hakim meets with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski on Monday. (National Wisdom Movement)

Head of Iraq’s National Wisdom Movement and one of the most prominent members of the pro-Iran Coordination Framework, Ammar al-Hakim condemned on Monday “attempts to destabilize the country through resorting to the use of arms.”

He made his remarks during a meeting with US Ambassador to Iraq Alina Romanowski a day after Secretary-General of the Iran-aligned Nujaba movement Akram al-Kaabi warned Washington that the suspension of attacks against American troops was the “calm before the storm.”

The Nujaba had recently declared that it was suspending attacks against the US forces deployed in Iraq. In January, a US strike in Baghdad killed Mushtaq Taleb al-Saidi, a leading member of the Nujaba who was involved in planning and carrying out attacks against American personnel in Iraq and Syria.

In a statement after meeting Romanowski, Hakim underscored his support for the “security agencies that are carrying out their duties in pursuing the sides responsible for these rejected criminal acts.”

He said he welcomed the resumption of the second round of bilateral negotiations between Baghdad and the US to end the mission of the international coalition fighting the ISIS terrorist group.

He renewed his support to Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani's government in running the negotiations with the US-Iraq Higher Military Commission.

Hakim also condemned before the ambassador Israel's war on Gaza, urging the need to stop it as soon as possible and delivering humanitarian aid to the Palestinian people.

Kaabi had made light of the negotiations between Baghdad and Washington, saying that while the “Islamic Resistance” does not reject them, “we assert that the American occupier is a liar, treacherous and arrogant.”

He added that it would be “delusional” to believe that the US would “yield and withdraw from Iraq through negotiations.”

He stressed that the current calm “was only a temporary tactic aimed at redeployment and mobilization.”

Furthermore, he alleged that certain sides, which he did not name, “have provided the American forces with information about the resistance and their positions.”


Biden Says Israel Agrees to Stop Gaza Attacks for Ramadan as Hamas Mulls Draft Truce Proposal

FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to US governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to US governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
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Biden Says Israel Agrees to Stop Gaza Attacks for Ramadan as Hamas Mulls Draft Truce Proposal

FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to US governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo
FILE PHOTO: US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to US governors attending the National Governors Association winter meeting, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, US, February 23, 2024. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz/File Photo

US President Joe Biden said Israel has agreed to halt military activities in Gaza for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, as Hamas studied a draft proposal for a truce which includes a pause in fighting and a prisoner-hostage exchange.
The draft proposal, which a senior source close to truce talks in Paris told Reuters would allow hospitals and bakeries in Gaza to be repaired and 500 aid trucks to enter the battered enclave every day, is the most serious attempt in weeks to end the conflict which erupted in October last year.
Ramadan is expected to begin on the evening of March 10th and end on the evening of April 9th.
"Ramadan is coming up, and there’s been an agreement by the Israelis that they would not engage in activities during Ramadan, as well, in order to give us time to get all the hostages out," Biden said during an appearance on NBC's "Late Night with Seth Meyers".
He also warned that Israel risked losing international support due to the high death toll among Palestinians, adding that Israel had committed to make it possible for Palestinians to evacuate from Rafah in Gaza's south before intensifying its campaign there to destroy Hamas.
Biden, whose remarks were recorded on Monday and broadcast on Tuesday, said there was an agreement in principle for a ceasefire between the two sides while hostages were released. He said he hoped to have a ceasefire in the conflict by the following Monday.
"There are too many innocent people that are being killed. And Israel has slowed down the attacks in Rafah," Biden said, adding that a temporary ceasefire would jumpstart a process for Palestinians to have their own state.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected a two-state solution.
Under the draft proposal, the exchange of Palestinian prisoners for Israeli hostages would be at a ratio of 10 to one, the senior source said.
The draft also states Hamas would free 40 Israeli hostages including women, children under 19, elderly over 50 and the sick, while Israeli would release around 400 Palestinian prisoners and will not re-arrest them, the source told Reuters.


Greece Takes the Helm in EU Naval Mission in the Red Sea 

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias visits the Greek frigate Hydra, set to depart in the coming days, after Greek government approved the country's participation in the EU naval mission in the Red Sea, at Salamina naval base, Greece, February 26, 2024. (Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias visits the Greek frigate Hydra, set to depart in the coming days, after Greek government approved the country's participation in the EU naval mission in the Red Sea, at Salamina naval base, Greece, February 26, 2024. (Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
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Greece Takes the Helm in EU Naval Mission in the Red Sea 

Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias visits the Greek frigate Hydra, set to depart in the coming days, after Greek government approved the country's participation in the EU naval mission in the Red Sea, at Salamina naval base, Greece, February 26, 2024. (Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)
Greek Defense Minister Nikos Dendias visits the Greek frigate Hydra, set to depart in the coming days, after Greek government approved the country's participation in the EU naval mission in the Red Sea, at Salamina naval base, Greece, February 26, 2024. (Defense Ministry/Handout via Reuters)

Greece Monday formally agreed to participate in and lead a European Union maritime security operation in the Red Sea to protect commercial shipping from attacks by the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

A security committee headed by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ordered the participation of a Greek frigate in the Aspides operation – named from the Greek word for “shield” – that was launched last week.

The mission will be run from a military base in Larissa, in central Greece, under the command of Greek navy Cdre. Vasilios Griparis.

Greece, a major commercial shipping power, has been directly affected by the Houthi attacks. The port of Piraeus, near Athens, reported a 12.7% drop in activity at its container terminal in January, on an annual basis.

“We all understand that participation in this operation involves risks, significant risks,” Defense Minister Nikos Dendias said Monday while on a visit to the navy frigate Hydra at a naval base near Athens.

The frigate departed on the mission late Monday.

“Greece, as a maritime power with a leading role in global shipping, attaches great importance to the need to safeguard the freedom of navigation, as well as the life of Greek seafarers,” Dendias said.

Germany, Italy and France will also provide warships for the mission, joining the Hydra, while Italy will assume tactical command, according to Greek officials.

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visited the German Navy frigate Hessen, that is taking part in Aspides, while on a trip to the Greek island of Crete last week. The vessel has since sailed southward to the Red Sea, German authorities said.

Officials in Athens have described the Aspides mission as defensive, adding that Greece would not take part in US-led attacks against Houthi military targets in Yemen.

The Houthis say their attacks on commercial ships with drones and missiles are a response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas which began in October.

At a parliamentary committee hearing last week, Dendias said keeping the lines of maritime trade open was an “existential necessity for Greece.”

“We do not take a position on the Houthi issue,” Dendias told lawmakers at the hearing. “But we do challenge the right of anyone to fire at our ships, at European ships, and at ships that sail the region and come to our ports.”


US military Says it Destroys Houthi Weapons

A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
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US military Says it Destroys Houthi Weapons

A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS
A Royal Air Force Typhoon aircraft is prepared to conduct further strikes against Houthi targets, February 24, 2024. AS1 Eoin Kirwan-Taylor RAF/UK MOD/Handout via REUTERS

The US military said on Monday it had destroyed three unmanned surface vessels and two anti-ship cruise missiles that were prepared to launch towards the Red Sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The US military's Central Command also said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it destroyed an aerial drone that was over the Red Sea. All the weapons "presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and to the US Navy ships in the region," it said.

Shipping risks have escalated due to repeated Houthi drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait since November in support of Palestinians in Gaza.

US and British forces have responded with several strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.


OPCW: No Grounds ISIS’ 2017 Attack in Syria Involved Chemicals

The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
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OPCW: No Grounds ISIS’ 2017 Attack in Syria Involved Chemicals

The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)
The Palestinian Yarmouk camp, south of Damascus, in December 2020 (EPA)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Monday there were “no reasonable grounds” to conclude that a 2017 “attack” in Syria blamed on ISIS contained chemical weapons.

OPCW said Damascus in November 2017 reported “use of toxic chemicals in an attack by the terrorist organization ISIS against another terrorist group called Aknaf Beit Almaqdis.”

The alleged attack took place at the sprawling Yarmouk district in Damascus in October that year.

It resulted in several cases of breathing difficulties “and loss of consciousness in the ranks of Aknaf terrorist group,” Damascus told the OPCW.

But the Hague-based body said after investigating, its Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) concluded that “there are no reasonable grounds to determine that toxic chemicals were used as a weapon in the reported incident.”

Set up in 2014, the FFM investigates the use of chemical weapons in Syria, but it cannot identify the perpetrators behind the attacks.

The OPCW's investigators based their findings on chemical sample analyses, interviews with witnesses, video and photo evidence and documents and correspondence with the Syrian government.

“The samples analysis results provided no indication that chemicals were used as a weapon,” the OPCW said in a statement.

“There was no detection of the presence of scheduled chemicals, their precursors and, or their degradation products, nor of riot control agents, chlorinated organic chemicals or compounds containing chemically reactive chlorine,” it said.

The FFM also tried to interview witnesses who were present “in areas of interest at the time of the reported incident.”

This was unsuccessful because several witnesses had died, or were missing, while others who had initially agreed to provide testimony “ultimately declined to provide their account of the events to the FFM,” the OPCW said.

The war in Syria has killed more than half a million people since it erupted in March 2011.

Syria agreed in 2013 to join the OPCW, shortly after an alleged chemical gas attack killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus.

But the global watchdog had since accused President Bashar al-Assad's regime of continuing to attack civilians with chemical weapons in the Middle East country's brutal civil war.

Damascus denies the charges.


US Names New Special Envoy to Sudan in Push to End War

Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
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US Names New Special Envoy to Sudan in Push to End War

Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)
Smoke rises above buildings in the vicinity of Khartoum Airport. (AFP)

The United States appointed a new special envoy for Sudan on Monday, as Washington seeks to bring an end to a war that has wrecked parts of the country and killed tens of thousands.

Former diplomat and US member of Congress Tom Perriello will assume the special envoy role, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement provided to Reuters ahead of the announcement, as the US seeks to bring increased focus to the conflict after the failure of talks so far.

In a statement, Perriello said he will build on efforts of partners across Africa and the Middle East to bring an end to the war, a humanitarian crisis and atrocities.

"This appointment reflects the urgency and importance President Biden and Secretary Blinken have placed on ending this war, putting a stop to rampant atrocities against civilians, and preventing an already horrific humanitarian situation from becoming a catastrophic famine," Perriello said.

The US Ambassador to Sudan John Godfrey has left his role, Blinken said in the statement.

Daniel Rubinstein will serve as interim charge d'affaires as director of the Office of Sudan Affairs, Blinken said. He will be based in Ethiopia.

War broke out in Sudan last April over disputes about the powers of the army and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) under an internationally-backed plan for a political transition towards civilian rule and elections.

The army and the RSF had shared power with civilians after the fall of former leader Omar al-Bashir in a popular uprising in 2019, before staging a coup two years later.

The fighting has wrecked parts of Sudan including the capital Khartoum, killed more than 13,000 people according to UN estimates, drawn warnings of famine, and created an internal displacement crisis.

The Rapid Support Forces are accused by the US of participating in an ethnic cleansing campaign in West Darfur, along with war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The army, which has carried out a widespread airstrike campaign, is also accused of war crimes by the US.

Perriello previously served as special envoy for the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and as a US representative from Virginia.

Rubinstein recently led the US delegation at talks on Sudan in the Saudi city of Jeddah. Neither side maintained commitments made in the talks.

The US military evacuated American government personnel from Khartoum in April last year and suspended operations at its embassy there after fighting between Sudan's rival commanders broke out.


Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
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Jordan’s King Abdullah Warns of Dangers of Israel’s Planned Rafah Assault

 Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)
Aid is air-dropped over Gaza in cooperation with France in this handout picture released on February 26, 2024.(Jordan Armed Forces/Handout via Reuters)

Jordan's King Abdullah warned on Monday of the dangers of a military operation planned by Israel in Rafah and reiterated his appeal for an immediate ceasefire to help protect civilians in Gaza and bring in aid, the royal palace said.

The king also said the only way to end the decades-old conflict was to find a "political horizon" for Palestinians that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state on territory Israel occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, including east Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this week the Israeli security cabinet would approve military plans for Rafah - including the evacuation of more than a million displaced Palestinian civilians who have been sheltering there, and whose fate worries world powers.

Almost 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, Gaza medical officials say. The Hamas raid of Oct. 7 killed 1,200 people in Israel, which has also lost 241 soldiers in Gaza ground fighting that followed, according to official tallies.

The Jordanian army also arranged on Monday the biggest air drop operation so far to deliver aid to Gaza where the mostly displaced population of 2.3 million is facing crisis levels of hunger, an army statement said.

The operation deployed four C-130 planes including one belonging to the French air force, army spokesperson Mustafa Hiyari said.

Aid was dropped to 11 sites along the Gaza coast from its northern edge to the south for civilians to collect, Hiyari told Reuters. Previous air drops that parachuted in medicines and humanitarian provisions were sent to hospitals the Jordanian army runs in Gaza.


Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
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Four Workers Dead In Egypt Boat Sinking

Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP
Drowning accidents are common along Egypt's many canals, leading rural communities to organize for search-and-rescue operations © Khaled DESOUKI / AFP

Four Egyptian construction workers died Sunday when their boat sank in a canal near Giza, state media reported, adding that five others were rescued and four passengers were still missing.

The small boat was carrying 13 workers when it went down near the northern Giza village of Nekla, around 30 kilometres (18 miles) northwest of the capital Cairo, state-owned newspaper Al-Ahram said.

"Rescuers managed to recover the bodies of four victims and save five others," while efforts to find the remaining four passengers were ongoing, the paper said, AFP reported.

The health ministry said four of the rescued had been transported to hospital, and three were later discharged.

They were suffering from "drowning-induced asphyxia", the ministry said, adding that one of them had remained "under observation" at the hospital.

AFP correspondents at the scene saw local fishermen pulling a body out of the water as anxious relatives watched the ad hoc rescue operation.

One of the volunteers, Yasser, told AFP they arrived on the scene more than an hour after the accident and had "pulled out four people".

He and the other fishermen requested anonymity to protect their privacy.

Speaking from a small wooden motorboat, Yasser said the volunteers are "self-funded with donations" from a nearby village to help respond to emergencies along the canal.


Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
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Arab States, Türkiye Ask World Court to Declare Israel’s Occupation Illegal 

A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)
A man waves a Palestinian flag as people protest on the day of a public hearing held by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to allow parties to give their views on the legal consequences of Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories before eventually issuing a non-binding legal opinion, in The Hague, Netherlands, February 21, 2024. (Reuters)

Arab states urged international judges on Monday to rule the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories illegal and Türkiye described the occupation as "the real obstacle to peace" on the final day of hearings in a case examining its legal status.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been hearing arguments from more than 50 states following a request by the UN General Assembly in 2022 to issue a non-binding opinion on the legal consequences of the Israeli occupation.

On the sixth and last day of hearings, Türkiye’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ahmet Yildiz told judges the occupation was the root cause of conflict in the region.

Yildiz also addressed the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas in Israel, which killed 1,200 people, and Israel's military response that has since killed over 29,000 Palestinians.

"The unfolding situation after October 7 proves once again that, without addressing the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there can be no peace in the region," he said, describing the occupation of Palestinian territories as "the real obstacle to peace" and urging the judges to declare it illegal.

Israel, which is not taking part in the hearings, has said the court's involvement could be harmful to achieving a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling the questions posed to the court prejudiced.

The Arab League's secretary general Ahmed Aboul Gheit described the occupation "an affront to international justice" in a statement read out by a representative.

It called upon the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to "confirm the illegality of this occupation and unambiguously rule on the legal consequences for all parties, especially those who turn a blind eye, facilitate, assist, or participate in any way in perpetuating this illegal situation".

Last week, Palestinian representatives asked the judges to declare Israel's occupation of their territory illegal and said its opinion could help reach a two-state solution to decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict that has now devastated Gaza.

The judges are expected to take roughly six months to issue an opinion on the request.


Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
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Israel Strikes Deeper into Lebanon after Hezbollah Downs Drone

Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)
Smoke rises from the southern Lebanon's village of Blida as a result of an Israeli airstrike, as seen from an undisclosed location in northern Israel, 25 February 2024. (EPA)

Israeli warplanes struck Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Monday, killing at least two Hezbollah members in its deepest attack into Lebanese territory since hostilities erupted with the Iran-backed group last October, sources in Lebanon said.

Underlining the risks of escalation, Hezbollah responded by firing 60 rockets at an Israeli army headquarters in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the group's al-Manar television reported. An Israeli army spokesperson said dozens of rockets were fired towards the Golan Heights from Lebanon.

The attacks marked an intensification of the worst violence between the heavily armed Hezbollah and Israel since their 2006 war, fueling concern of the potential for further escalation and regional spillover of the Gaza war.

The Israeli army said its fighter jets had struck Hezbollah air defenses in the Bekaa Valley in response to the downing of an Israeli drone, which Hezbollah said it had shot down with a surface-to-air missile earlier on Monday.

The airstrikes hit part of the Bekaa Valley region near the Syrian border which is a political stronghold of the Shiite Hezbollah. The targeted area was some 18 km (11 miles) from the city of Baalbek, which is known for its ancient ruins.

The sources said Israel had carried out simultaneous strikes in the area. A Lebanese security source and a source familiar with the matter said two Hezbollah members had been killed.

Lebanese television station Al-Jadeed broadcast images of plumes of smoke rising from the area.

In a separate attack, an Israeli airstrike hit a car in the town of Mjadel in southern Lebanon, killing a Hezbollah field commander, three security sources in Lebanon said.

Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said Israel had widened its strikes by hitting Baalbek and other areas, and was seeking to "compensate" for the downing of its drone.

"Its aggression on Baalbek or any other areas will not remain without response," he said in televised remarks delivered at the funeral of a Hezbollah fighter killed in recent days.

The Israeli military said it would "continue operating to defend the State of Israel from the threat of Hezbollah terrorist organization, including in aerial operations above Lebanese territory".

Hezbollah has been waging a campaign of attacks on targets at the border with Israel since the Oct. 7 raid from the Gaza Strip by its Palestinian ally Hamas. Hezbollah describes it as an effort to support Palestinians under Israeli fire in Gaza.

Israel says to ‘increase the fire’ on Hezbollah

The hostilities have largely played out in areas near the Lebanese-Israeli border, but last week widened when Israel struck an area just south of the coastal city of Sidon.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated on Sunday that Israel planned to increase attacks on Hezbollah in the event of a possible ceasefire in the Gaza conflict.

"If a temporary pause is reached in Gaza, we will increase the fire in the north separately, and will continue until the full withdrawal of Hezbollah [from the border] and the return of Israeli citizens to their homes," he said.

The violence has uprooted tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

Hezbollah said earlier on Monday it had shot down an Israeli Hermes 450 drone over Lebanese territory with a surface-to-air missile.

The Israeli military said two missile launches had targeted an Israeli Air Force unmanned aerial vehicle operating over Lebanon. The first, it said, was intercepted by Israel's "David's Sling" Aerial Defense System but the drone "fell inside Lebanese territory" after a second launch.

Israeli strikes since October have killed some 50 civilians in Lebanon, in addition to some 200 Hezbollah fighters.

Attacks from Lebanon into Israel have killed a dozen Israeli soldiers troops and five civilians.