Fears were growing on Monday that the war between Israel and Palestinian group Hamas could be set to spiral, amid reports that other Islamist groups may be planning to join the fighting.
On Monday, Daniel Hagari, spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), appeared to suggest that another militant group was becoming involved. In translated comments on social media site X, formerly known as Twitter, Hagari said: “A report was received about the infiltration of several suspects into Israeli territory from Lebanese territory. IDF forces are deployed in the area.”
Tensions in the region are running high after Palestinian militant group Hamas launched a surprise rocket attack against Israel on Saturday. Israel and Palestine have been engaged in a bitter territorial dispute for decades. Following the attack, which saw scores of victims, including Americans kidnapped, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that Israel was now at war with Hamas and launched a series of air strikes across Gaza. By Monday morning, at least 700 people had been killed in Israel and more than 400 killed in Gaza, according to the Associated Press.
On Sunday, just a day after Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel, news agency Reuters reported that Lebanon’s Hezbollah—which the U.S. considers a terrorist organization—said it had targeted Israeli military positions in the Shebaa Farms area, claiming it was acting “in solidarity” with the Palestinian people.
Shebaa Farms is an Israeli-held strip of land along the Lebanese border, which Islamist group Hezbollah claims is part of Lebanon’s territory. The IDF responded by shooting artillery into Lebanon. There were no reports of casualties on either side.
Hashem Safi al-Din, the head of Hezbollah’s Executive Council, suggested on Sunday that the group could become involved in the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. “The responsibility obliges all the sons of our nation not to be neutral and we are not neutral,” he said at a pro-Palestinian rally in Beirut, according to Lebanese news site Naharnet.
Social media commentators reported that gunfire had been heard at the Lebanon border on Monday, sparking fears that Hezbollah was becoming involved in the fighting. Hezbollah was previously involved in a five-week war with Israel back in 2006 and tensions have remained high.
Journalist Oz Katerji, a member of the Foreign Press Association, posted on X: “Looks like Hezbollah may be deciding to enter the conflict. Let’s wait for confirmation before jumping to conclusions, but this could get very bad, very quickly.”
Israeli defense journalist Hallel Bitton Rosen, of the news outlet Now 14, uploaded a post on X on Monday, rendered by Google Translate as reading: “Following the incident in the north, four terrorists infiltrated, two were killed, one apparently returned to Lebanon.” It is unclear what happened to the fourth.
He later added: “Following the report of another incursion at the Lebanese border, two more suspects were identified in the area. Our forces are on them.”
Another Israeli outlet, N12 News, reported claims that three IDF soldiers had been wounded in a gun battle on Monday.
“The thwarted infiltration at the Lebanese border: 3 soldiers were moderately injured in an exchange of fire with terrorists,” the outlet posted on X.
Newsweek has not yet been able to independently verify the claims about skirmishes along the Lebanese border, but is attempting to seek clarification from both sides. Newsweek emailed Israel’s IDF and Lebanon’s Ministry of Information on Monday, requesting further information and comment.
The reports came the same day that Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib said his government has received assurances from Hezbollah that the group would not join the fighting—unless Israel “harasses” Lebanon. His claims were reported by The Times of Israel.
In a separate article, also published on Monday, the newspaper said Russian officials had suggested there was a significant “risk” of a third party entering the conflict. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency: “The risk of third forces becoming involved in this conflict is high.”
Speculation has already been swirling about whether Russia had any connection to the Hamas attack, which Hamas is calling “Operation Al-Aqsa Flood.”
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has threatened to attack U.S. positions in the Middle East if America intervenes directly in the Israel/Hamas conflict, Reuters reported. Hezbollah is backed by Tehran, which has stoked further fears that Iran could get involved too. Tehran has rejected such claims, Reuters said.
Update 10/09/23, 11:08 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with further details and information.