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Lebanon-Israel border heats up ahead of speech by Hezbollah leader

An Israeli artillery unit fires during a military drill in the annexed Golan Heights near the border with Lebanon
— Beirut (AFP)

Lebanon's Hezbollah said it attacked 19 Israeli positions along the border simultaneously Thursday, prompting a "broad" retaliatory assault, on the eve of a speech by the Iran-backed group's leader on the Israel-Hamas war.

The Israel-Lebanon border has seen escalating tit-for-tat exchanges, mainly between the Israeli army and Hamas ally Hezbollah, since the Palestinian militants launched a shock attack on Israel on October 7, stoking fears of a regional conflagration.

Lebanon's official National News Agency said four people were killed and others wounded in Israeli bombardments of the border region, while Hezbollah announced another of its fighters killed.

The deaths raised to 71 the number killed in Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began, according to an AFP tally -- most of them Hezbollah fighters and other combatants but also civilians, one a Reuters journalist.

On the Israeli side, nine people have died -- eight soldiers and one civilian, the army says.

A barrage of rockets wounded two people in the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona near the border, Israel's Magen David Adom emergency medical service said.

The Lebanese section of Hamas's armed wing said it fired a dozen rockets at the town "in response to the occupation (Israeli) massacres against our people in Gaza".

Israeli firefighters douse vehicles following a rocket attack on the northern town of Kiryat Shmona close to the Lebanese border

Hezbollah said that at 3:30 pm (1330 GMT), its fighters "simultaneously attacked 19 Zionist military positions" with guided missiles and artillery shells.

The assault came as Hezbollah carried out a drone attack on an Israeli barracks in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, the group said in a statement.

The Israeli military said in response it targeted the group with a "broad assault", in which "warplanes and helicopters" attacked Hezbollah targets.

- 'Doesn't need a war' -

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah is set to speak Friday for the first time since the Israel-Hamas war broke out.

Israel has carried out relentless strikes on Gaza since Hamas militants attacked border communities and military outposts on October 7.

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu said Lebanon "doesn't need a war" with Israel, during a visit on Thursday to his country's contingent in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

French Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu (L) visits his country's contingent in the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, telling them their mission has never been so important

Such a war "could have major escalatory effects on the whole region," he said.

Earlier Thursday, Hezbollah said it had downed an Israeli drone with a surface-to-air missile, the second such claim in days.

Lebanon's army meanwhile retrieved the bodies of two shepherds killed by Israeli fire, the NNA said.

The two shepherds, aged 20 and 22, had been reported missing on Wednesday as they herded their flock through Wazzani, their home village near the border, Lebanon's NNA reported.

"They were found dead after the (Israeli) occupation forces opened fire in their direction," the NNA said.

UNIFIL said that on Wednesday "two projectiles landed and exploded 10 metres" (32 feet) from a peacekeeping position in the southern village of Beit Lif, "causing significant damage to a wall and minor damage to some UNIFIL vehicles".

"UNIFIL reiterates its great concern that our positions are being hit in the exchange of fire," a statement said.

Israel says its aim in Gaza is to destroy Hamas following the October 7 attacks, the worst in the country's 75-year history, with officials saying militants killed 1,400 people and kidnapped 242 others.

It has been bombarding Gaza since then in an assault that the Hamas-run health ministry says has killed more than 9,000 people.