by Hussein Dakroub, The Daily Star
BEIRUT: A state of panic gripped Israeli northern towns Wednesday as the Jewish state braced itself for a possible Hezbollah reprisal over last week’s airstrike that killed six party fighters and a senior Iranian general in Syria’s Golan Heights.
Israeli forces were placed on high security alert following reports, which later proved to be false, about an infiltration attempt by gunmen from Lebanon into Israel’s border.
Rumors spread that gunmen were spotted sneaking into Israel from Lebanon, prompting Israeli authorities to ask residents in towns near the border to stay indoors.
TV footage showed Israeli police and security forces deployed heavily in towns near the border with Lebanon, manning checkpoints and trying to calm jittery citizens.
An Israeli citizen, interviewed by MTV, complained that most Jewish settlements near the border with Lebanon have been closed as Israel prepared the population for a retaliatory action by Hezbollah for the death of Muhammad “Abu Issa” Issa, one of its field commanders, Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of slain commander Imad Mughniyeh, and four other fighters in the Israeli raid that targeted a Hezbollah convoy in the Syrian town of Qunaitra last Sunday. A top Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander was also killed in the raid.
Reflecting tension over a possible Hezbollah retaliation, Israeli tanks were witnessed taking up new positions along Lebanon’s southeastern border Wednesday, as U.N. peacekeepers and Lebanese Army troops boosted their patrols in the area.
“Five Israeli tanks repositioned from the Riaq [military outpost] to the highlands southeast of the Metula settlement,” a security source told The Daily Star.
Helicopters belonging to the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon were seen carrying out their routine reconnaissance flights over the Blue Line as a number of shepherds reported seeing Israeli military vehicles and flashing lights across the border.
Residents of the Lebanese village of Kfar Kila facing the Metula settlement also reported hearing rumbles of Israeli vehicles positioning in the valleys south of Metula.
“We have spotted the movements in addition to the high overflights of Israeli military aircraft in most of the Lebanese southern airspace,” a UNIFIL officer told The Daily Star.
Hezbollah’s silence on its possible response to the Qunaitra raid has kept Israel on edge. Israeli media have reported that the Jewish state is bolstering its forces along the border in anticipation of a retaliatory attack.
Israeli officials told the Associated Press that the country has boosted deployment of its “Iron Dome” aerial defense system along its northern frontier with Lebanon, and has increased surveillance in the area.
Meanwhile, Iran vowed to avenge the death of a Revolutionary Guard general who was killed in the Qunaitra raid.
Thousands gathered Wednesday in Tehran at a funeral procession for Gen. Mohammad Ali Allahdadi, a day after his commander warned the Jewish state it should await “ruinous thunderbolts.” Allahdadi’s coffin was draped in an Iranian flag as it was carried into a Guards base in southeast Tehran. He is to be buried Thursday in Pariz, a town in the southern province of Kerman.
“The path of martyr Allahdadi is unstoppable and will be continued until the liberation of the Holy Quds [Jerusalem] and obliteration of the Zionist regime,” Guard commander Major General Ali Jaafari said at a ceremony at the base, according to the official IRNA news agency.
“They have in the past seen our wrath,” Jaafari said, adding that the Guards “will continue its support for Muslim fighters and combatants in the region.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah buried the last two of its six slain fighters. The Hezbollah-draped coffins of Abbas Ibrahim Hijazi, 35, and his father, who had died hours after he was informed of his son’s killing, were carried by the party’s fighters clad in their military fatigues amid a crowd that flooded their hometown of Ghazieh, south of Sidon.
The elderly Hijazi, known as Abu Kamal, passed away due to an illness a few hours after the family was informed of the fighter’s death. He had been in a coma for a month, and served Hezbollah as a founding member and dedicated 30 years of his life to the resistance.
The crowd chanted anti-Israel slogans, as the funeral procession marched through the streets of Ghazieh, in an outburst of grief and anger. Black-clad women threw rice and rose petals from balconies on the two coffins.
The same scene of mourning and grief was replicated in the southern village of Ain Qana where Mohammad Ali Hasan Abu al-Hasan, 29, was laid to rest in a procession with Hezbollah flags and fighters which was also attended by senior party officials.
Former premier Fouad Siniora telephoned Hezbollah officials to offer condolences over the killing of the six party fighters.
Al-Jadeed TV said the call took place between Siniora and Hussein Khalil, a political aide to Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah.