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Israel army says downed 3 Hezbollah drones headed to offshore gas field

This image grab from a video released by the Israeli army spokesperson's unit on July 2, 2022, reportedly shows a drone launched by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement that was headed towards an offshore gas field in the Mediterranean
— Jerusalem (AFP)

The Israeli army said Saturday it had intercepted three drones launched by Hezbollah that were headed towards an offshore gas field in the Mediterranean, amid rising tension between Israel and Lebanon.

"Three hostile drones approaching the airspace in Israel's economic waters have been intercepted," the army said in a statement, adding that the drones were headed towards the Karish gas field.

The drones were not armed and did not pose a risk, Israeli military sources said.

One drone was intercepted by a fighter jet and the other two by a warship, the sources added.

Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement in a statement confirmed it had launched drones towards the offshore area.

"On Saturday afternoon, three unarmed drones were launched towards the disputed Karish field for reconnaissance missions," the Shiite group said in a statement.

"The mission was accomplished," it added, without mentioning any Israeli interception.

Lebanon condemned Israel last month when a vessel chartered by Israel and operated by London-listed Greek energy firm Energean entered the Karish field.

Hezbollah at the time warned Energean against proceeding with its activities.

"The immediate objective should be to prevent the enemy from extracting oil and gas from the Karish gas field," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised speech.

Hezbollah will not "stand by and do nothing in the face of (Israel's) looting of Lebanon's natural wealth... which is the only hope for the salvation of the Lebanese people", he warned.

Lebanon and Israel resumed negotiations on their maritime border in 2020, but the process was stalled by Beirut's claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of waters it said were in dispute but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres (552 square miles), including part of the Karish field.

Israel claims that the field lies in its waters and is not part of the disputed area subject to ongoing negotiations.

Israel's caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Saturday that "Israel knows how to use its strength against every threat, against every enemy", without specifically mentioning the intercepted drones.

"I say to everyone seeking our demise, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: don't test us," he said in his first address as prime minister.

Lapid took up office on Friday following the dissolution of the Israeli parliament, a prelude to new legislative elections set to be held on November 1.

Lebanon and Israel remain technically at war and have no diplomatic relations. UN peacekeepers patrol the border.

Israel fought a devastating war with Hezbollah in 2006 and regards the Iran-backed group as one of its principal enemies.

In mid-June, an official close to the maritime border negotiations told AFP that Lebanon had made an offer to a visiting US mediator that held back on demands for parts of Karish, but included claim over all of a separate field.