Hezbollah leader says Israel should be on high alert after Beirut, Syria attacks

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah vowed to down any Israeli drones in Lebanese airspace and warned Israel’s military to be ready for a response after what he said was an Israeli drone attack in Beirut on Sunday.

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Hassan Nasrallah’s words also followed overnight strikes claimed by Israel that he said killed two members of Hezbollah forces in Syria.

He said that what he called a suicide attack by a self-destructing drone before dawn on Sunday in Beirut’s Hezbollah-dominated southern suburbs was intended for a specific target.

One drone fell and a second exploded near the ground and caused some damage to Hezbollah’s media center, Hezbollah said.

Nasrallah said Hezbollah did not down the drones.

Israel has said nothing about the Beirut drone incident. It said its strike in Syria on Saturday night had thwarted an Iranian-led drone attack on Israel.

Nasrallah said the Beirut incident was the first Israeli attack inside Lebanon since a month-long war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It marked “the first clear, big, dangerous, breach of the rules of engagement drawn up in 2006” after the end of that conflict, he said.

“If we keep quiet on this violation, this will lay a dangerous path for Lebanon,” he said, adding that drone attacks could lead to a situation similar to what is happening in Iraq.

Regional sources say that Israel and Hezbollah have formed an unwritten understanding that while they can exchange fire within Syria, any attacks within Lebanon or Israel are to be avoided lest they escalate to war.

Iraq’s Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a grouping of Iraq’s mostly Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups, many of which are backed by Iran, on Wednesday blamed a series of recent blasts at their weapons depots and bases on the United States and Israel.

The Pentagon has denied the PMF accusation, while Israel has hinted at possible involvement in the Iraq blasts.

“I say to the Israeli army on the border from tonight, stand guard (on high alert). Wait for us one, two, three, four days ... what happened last night won’t cut it with us,” Nasrallah said.

He said the group would do what it takes at any cost to prevent future attacks and down any drones in Lebanese airspace.

Reporting by Laila Bassam, Lisa Barrington, Suleiman al-Khalidi and Ellen Francis; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry