Israel targets Hezbollah 'terror tunnels'

Israeli vehicles are seen from the village of Kfar Kila

Israeli vehicles are seen from the village of Kfar Kila

The army said the operation was for now confined to Israel and did not extend into Lebanon, where the tunnels originated.

Earlier in the day, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) spokesman Jonathan Conricus announced that the Israeli army was launching the Northern Shield operation at the Israeli-Lebanese border in order to find and destroy cross-border tunnels of the Lebanon-based Hezbollah movement.

The area around the Israeli town of Metula has been declared a closed military zone, with the army distributing images of heavy machinery digging into the ground.

In a tweet, Israeli military spokesperson Avichay Adraee said the Lebanese government is responsible for the build-up of the tunnels, saying they are endangering Lebanese citizens.

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A Lebanese military official told The Associated Press that Lebanese troops and military intelligence agents, along with United Nations peacekeepers deployed in southern Lebanon, were observing the border.

Conricus said Hezbollah has been developing an offensive plan that would "shift the battleground into Israel". "Hamas uses the tunnels for tactical operations". On its Twitter account, the Lebanese army said its forces were "closely" following developments and were "totally prepared to confront any sudden occurrence".

There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah and its Al-Manar TV did not make any mention of the Israeli operation. The military said it was assessing the situation to gauge Hezbollah's possible reaction.

Operation Northern Shield "is not expected to spark an escalation" between the IDF and Hezbollah, according to Haaretz, which adds, "The question is how Iran will respond". The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the group's military activities with the media. "The tunnel extended from under a home in southern Lebanon, extending 600 feet through solid rock and penetrating into Israel", the report said.

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Israel appears increasingly concerned that Iran is attempting to transfer some of its military influence from Syria, where Russian Federation is the government's top ally, to Lebanon.

There has been increased attention in Israel in recent days over Israeli officials' concerns regarding Iranian activity in Lebanon.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian military targets and deliveries of advanced arms to Hizbullah.

Before his departure, Netanyahu hinted at the Israel operation. He took over the defense portfolio from his resigning minister and promised to pursue a hard line against Israel's enemies during what he described as a "complex" security situation.

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The last major conflict between Israel and Hezbollah was the 2006 Second Lebanon War. With Syria's civil war winding down, Hezbollah is now free to return its focus to Israel.

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