BEIRUT: Soldiers and volunteers on Thursday were battling a blaze on Lebanon’s southern border caused by Israeli bombing overnight, local officials said, as Israel and Hezbollah exchange near-daily cross-border fire.
Since Palestinian militant group Hamas carried out an unprecedented attack on Israel from the Gaza Strip on October 7, Lebanon’s southern border has seen tit-for-tat exchanges between Israel and the Iran-backed Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
Mayor of the border village of Alma al-Shaab, Jean Ghafari, said fire broke out after Israeli bombing late Wednesday.
“The blaze reached the edges of the village after midnight” and is still burning, he told AFP, adding that it “has come close to houses”.
Security forces, civil defence personnel, United Nations peacekeepers and volunteers were battling the blaze but “have been unable to completely control it because of strong winds”, Ghafari added.
The municipality said some 70 percent of the village’s population had fled due to Israeli attacks.
An AFP photographer saw fire near houses on the outskirts of Alma al-Shaab and burnt olive trees, with the blaze mainly concentrated between the village and the coastal city of Naqura.
“Overnight (Israeli) bombing with phosphorus led to the fire, which has affected a broad forested area and spread due to the high winds,“ Naqura mayor Abbas Awada told AFP in a statement.
In recent weeks, Lebanon’s official National News Agency and Lebanese paramedics have reported fires and injuries due to white phosphorus, while Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using the incendiary weapon in its war against Hamas militants in Gaza, and in southern Lebanon.
Israel has denied the allegations.
Parliament speaker Nabih Berri, whose party is allied with Hezbollah, on Thursday condemned Israel’s use of “phosphorus bombs” along Lebanon’s border and blamed “the international community” for the blazes, alluding to Western military support for Israel.
Hama’s shock attack saw gunmen pour from Gaza into Israel, killing 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and kidnapping more than 220, according to Israeli officials.
Israel has retaliated with relentless strikes that Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said have killed more than 7,000, also mainly civilians.
Exchanges of fire across the Lebanon-Israel border have since killed at least 57 people in Lebanon, according to an AFP tally, mostly Hezbollah combatants but also four civilians, including Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah.
Four people have been killed on the Israeli side, including one civilian.
Phosphorus, a substance that catches fire on contact with the air, is used to create smokescreens to hide troop movements, illuminate the battlefield or destroy buildings by fire. -AFP