The attack appeared to be revenge for an Israeli air strike in Syria in late December that killed infamous Hezbollah militant Samir Kantar. In a statement, Hezbollah said the attack in the disputed Shebaa Farms area along the Lebanon-Israel ceasefire line “destroyed the armoured Hummer vehicle and injured those in it”.
It said the attack was carried out by a group named for Kantar, who commanded Hezbollah’s operations in Syria’s Golan Heights, parts of which are occupied by Israel. The Israeli military confirmed that its forces had been targeted in the border area.
“IED detonated against IDF (Israeli army) vehicles in the area of Mt. Dov,” Israeli army spokesman Peter Lerner wrote in a tweet, referring to the disputed Shebaa Farms. He said the army responded with “targeted artillery fire”.
An Israeli army spokeswoman said there were no indications so far of injuries on the Israeli side. Lebanese security sources said Israel responded with artillery fire into two villages adjacent to the Shebaa Farms, but had no immediate information on damage or injuries.
The Shebaa Farms have been under Israeli occupation since the 1967 Middle East war. Lebanon says the area is Lebanese territory, while the UN says it was annexed from Syria. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed last month to take revenge for the death of Kantar, who was imprisoned in Israel for decades for the 1979 murder of three Israelis.
He was freed by the Jewish state in a prisoner exchange in 2008, but an Israeli security official warned then that he was a “target.”
“For us, Israel is fully responsible for assassinating the martyr Samir Kantar. We have no doubt about this,” Nasrallah said in an address after the strike. Hezbollah reserved “the right to respond to this assassination at the time and place of our choosing,” he added.
Israel did not confirm that it was behind Kantar’s death, but welcomed it. Hezbollah played a key role in Kantar’s release after 30 years in Israeli jails. He was convicted of having infiltrated the Israeli village of Nahariya by sea from Lebanon with three other militants and killing a 28-year-old man and his four-year-old daughter.
Kantar was sentenced to five life terms plus 47 years for murdering the father and daughter and an Israeli policeman. Shortly after his release, he joined Hezbollah and more recently he served as the head of a unit charged with the “liberation of the Golan”.
Hezbollah has an extensive presence in Syria, where it is mostly working to bolster the regime against an uprising that began in March 2011. Hezbollah and Israel scuffle intermittently in the disputed border area between Lebanon and the Jewish state, and the powerful Shia group has in the past targeted army patrols in response to strikes against its members.
In January, it claimed an attack in the Shebaa Farms against an army patrol in apparent revenge for an Israeli strike in Syria that killed six Hezbollah fighters and a member of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards.
In 2006, Israel fought a war against Hezbollah that killed more than 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and some 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers.