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Israel issues its most detailed warning yet to Hezbollah

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Rafah, Feb 4: Israel’s military has issued its most detailed warning yet to Hezbollah in neighbouring Lebanon that it would be “ready to attack immediately” if provoked, as it recounted its actions along the northern border during four months of war in Gaza and made a rare acknowledgement of dozens of airstrikes inside Syria against the militant group.
“We do not choose war as our first priority, but we are certainly prepared,” military spokesperson Daniel Hagari said, adding: “We will continue to act wherever Hezbollah is present, we will continue to act wherever it is required in the Middle East. What is true for Lebanon is true for Syria, and is true for other more distant places.”
The comments followed the defence minister’s warning that a cease-fire in Gaza against the militant group Hamas wouldn’t mean Israel wouldn’t attack Hezbollah as needed.
Efforts to close wide gaps between Israel and Hamas in pursuit of a cease-fire continued in the region where concerns about a wider war with Iran-allied groups remain.
A top Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, said they were studying the proposal put forward by the US, Egypt, Qatar and Israel but insist on Israel accepting conditions including a permanent cease-fire.
The war in Hamas-run Gaza has levelled vast swaths of the tiny besieged enclave, displaced 85 per cent of its population and pushed a quarter of residents to starvation.
The Health Ministry in Gaza said on Saturday that 107 people were killed over the past 24 hours, bringing the wartime total to 27,238. More than 66,000 people have been wounded.
In Gaza’s southernmost town of Rafah, at least 17 people including women and children were killed in two separate airstrikes overnight, according to the registration office at Abu Yousef al-Najjar hospital where the bodies were taken.
The first strike hit a residential building east of Rafah, killing at least 13 people from a single family. Four women and three children were among the dead, hospital officials said.
The second strike hit a house in Rafah’s Jeneina area, killing at least two men and two women.
More than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has taken refuge in Rafah and surrounding areas.
Israel’s defence minister warned earlier in the week that Israel might expand combat to Rafah after focusing on Khan Younis, southern Gaza’s largest city. While the statement alarmed aid officials and international diplomats, Israel would risk significantly disrupting relationships with the United States and neighbouring Egypt if it sends troops into Rafah, a key entry point for aid. (AP)

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