Israel-Lebanon Border Sees 'Intense Mobilization' After IDF Tanks Fire at Protests

The border between Israel and Lebanon saw a major deployment on both sides after Israeli tanks opened fire to push out protesters, one of whom has died, as they crossed the disputed boundary in support of Palestinian fighters in Gaza battling with Israel.

"IDF tanks fired warning shots towards a number of rioters who crossed from Lebanon into Israeli territory," the Israel Defense Forces said Friday in a statement obtained by Newsweek. "The suspects sabotaged the fence and set a fire in the area before returning to Lebanese territory."

Footage carried across social media and news outlets showed masses of protesters carrying Palestinian and Iranian flags as well as those of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement, a powerful Iran-supported group that has twice warred with Israel across the hostile border.

The information was confirmed by the Lebanese Ministry of Information, whose official news outlet reported that two youths were injured in the incident, one of whom Mohammed Tahan, later died while receiving medical treatment.

"Two Lebanese citizens were injured this afternoon, when two Israeli shells landed near them, after a number of young men attempted to enter the settlement of Metula through the barbed wire fence," the official Lebanese News Agency reported, "which led to the Israeli army's alertness and preventing them from advancing towards the fence by firing two shells at the young men."

As a result, the Lebanese Armed Forces deployed to the scene.

"A large force of the Lebanese army and security forces arrived immediately and worked to prevent the young men from advancing, and set up checkpoints to prohibit any of the citizens from approaching the barbed wire," the outlet reported, "while ambulances of the Islamic Health Authority transported the injured men to Marjayoun Governmental Hospital."

"Meanwhile," it added, "intense mobilization on both sides was witnessed during the process."

In a statement, Lebanese President Michel Aoun later "condemned the crime committed by the Israeli forces in shooting a group of youths who demonstrated at the southern borders in protest against the aggression in Gaza, which led to the death of the young man, Mohammed Tahan, and the wounding of another."

He asked Foreign Minister Charbel Wehbe "to inform the United Nations of the attack in preparation for taking the necessary steps."

Hezbollah, for its part, issued a statement mourning Tahan's death and affirming the group's support for the demonstrations and the Palestinians engaged in combat against Israel in Gaza.

lebanon, israel, border, fire, protests
A picture taken from the northern Israeli town of Metula, near the border with Lebanon, shows a fire burning after pro-Palestinian protesters rallied in the Khiam area, on May 14. Two Lebanese demonstrators were wounded by Israeli fire when dozens rallied on the Lebanon-Israel border to protest strikes on the Palestinian Gaza Strip, state media reported. JALAA MAREY/AFP/Getty Images

Also deployed to the border flashpoint were personnel attached to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has patrolled the border since 1978 in response to Lebanon's civil war, which involved Israel and Palestinian groups amid a number of local and regional factions. The boundary, known officially as the Blue Line, has remained tense regardless, and has since been the venue for two wars and a number of clashes, most of them involving Hezbollah.

"UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General [Stefano] Del Col is in touch with the parties to prevent escalation in the area," a UNIFIL spokesperson said Friday in a statement sent to Newsweek. "Our troops are on the ground to prevent violations and together with the LAF we have enhanced the security in the area."

Following the announcement of Tahan's death, UNIFIL shared another statement with Newsweek.

"We are aware of reports that a Lebanese civilian was killed along the Blue Line near Kafer Kila in south Lebanon today during a confrontation with the IDF," the statement said, adding that UNIFIL has "immediately launched an investigation to determine the facts and circumstances."

"Any loss of life is tragic," the statement added, "and we urge everyone to remain calm and avoid further escalating the situation and risking more lives."

A Lebanese official confirmed to Newsweek that the Lebanese Armed Forces have increased their presence by the Israeli border and near Palestinian refugee camps.

The unrest reportedly continued, however, as youths from the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh camp gathered across the border and were fired at by IDF using tear gas canisters and flares. The Lebanese Armed Forces also registered aerial violations involving Israeli reconnaissance aircraft over Baalbek, Beirut and northern Lebanon.

Friday's mayhem is at least the second instance of cross-border fire in as many days. The IDF said Thursday that three rockets had been launched from Lebanese territory into the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Galilee.

IDF spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters earlier Friday that there were "no Israeli casualties and no damage," but said that Israeli forces were keeping an eye northward on the country's northern borders with Lebanon and Syria.

"We continue, of course, to be very vigilant, looking towards the north, the northeast and assessing everything happening there," Conricus said. "Currently, [there is] no significant change in the situation up in the north, but we are monitoring events closely."

A Lebanese official told Newsweek on Thursday that the rocket launches likely originated from the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh, which is located along the coast in southern Lebanon. The Lebanese Armed Forces later said that they had discovered three rockets in the vicinity of the camp.

Heightened unrest at the already uneasy border between Israel and Lebanon was later followed Friday by IDF reports that "three rockets were fired from Syria into Israeli territory, one of which failed and fell in Syrian territory," according to a statement sent to Newsweek.

The development threatened to open multiple fronts against Israel, which has previously warred with multiple Arab nations at once in past decades.

The chaos at Israel's northern borders comes amid a conflagration in the decades-long conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, long the source of conflict with Israel and its neighbors. The latest round of fighting erupted after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound amid demonstrations over an attempt by Israeli families to evict Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.

Palestinian armed factions such as Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have unleashed a barrage of nearly 2,000 rockets by IDF estimates, while the Israeli side has conducted hundreds of airstrikes and began ground operations Thursday in an effort to degrade combat capabilities in Gaza.

gaza, israel, airstrike, palestinians, bank
Black smoke billows after an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City targeted the Intaj Bank linked to the Hamas movement, which controls the Gaza Strip on May 14. Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back, with the death toll in the enclave on the fourth day of conflict climbing to over 100. MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images

A delegation of Hezbollah officials including the group's number two, Deputy Secretary-General Sheikh Naim Qassem, and Political Bureau members Mahmoud Qumati and Hassan Hoballah met Friday with Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary-General Ziad Nakhaleh and Hamas' Lebanon-based leadership represented by Osama Hamdan, Ali Baraka and Ahmed Abdel Hadi, according to Lebanon's Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar outlet.

Qassem commended the ongoing campaign of the Palestinian movements and affirmed his organization's steadfast support.

"Hezbollah is always with the Palestinian resistance, with the jihad of the Palestinian people, with the liberation of Jerusalem," Qassem said. "We are with them in support, backing and assistance in all ways, and we always carry out our duties that we have assumed in various steps and stages."

Newsweek spoke with a Hezbollah spokesperson Wednesday who also affirmed the organization's support for the Palestinian side of the ongoing fight, and said Hezbollah's intervention was not yet needed.

"Of course, we are supporters," the Hezbollah spokesperson told Newsweek at the time. "But I don't think they're in need of our people. The numbers are available. All the rockets and capabilities are in the hands of the resistance fighters in Palestine."

The latest escalation at the border between Israel and Lebanon came about a week after U.S. ambassador John P. Desrocher was set to travel to Lebanon in an effort to advance negotiations toward settling a maritime dispute between the two countries.

On Friday, the State Department announced that Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr arrived in Tel Aviv in an effort "to work toward a sustainable calm, recognizing Israel's right to self-defense. Israelis and Palestinians deserve equal measures of freedom, security, dignity and prosperity."