Israel, Hezbollah exchange heavy fire as violence escalates

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Israel carried out heavy airstrikes in south Lebanon and Hezbollah said it had launched explosive drones and powerful rockets at Israeli targets on Wednesday in an escalation of seven months of hostilities in the border region.

Israeli attacks killed three people in Lebanon, security sources said.

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The conflict between Hezbollah and Israel has rumbled on since October in parallel to the Gaza war, uprooting tens of thousands of people on both sides of the frontier and fueling concern of a bigger war between the heavily armed adversaries.

The Israeli military said it had hit military structures and infrastructure belonging to the Iran-backed Hezbollah in three locations in south Lebanon, including more than 20 strikes on Hezbollah targets in the Ramyeh area.

Hezbollah said it had launched explosive drones at a military headquarters in the Israeli border town of Ya’ara, and fired its powerful Burkan rockets at a barracks in Biranit, among at least 10 attacks announced by the group on Wednesday.

Lebanon’s National News Agency reported Israeli strikes on 28 towns and villages of south Lebanon, a stronghold of the heavily-armed Hezbollah. Two security sources in Lebanon said the Israelis were using powerful munitions in an apparent attempt to hit Hezbollah underground bunkers.

The Israeli military said secondary explosions had been identified during the attack by its artillery and fighter jets in the Ramyeh area, indicating there were weapons storage facilities in the location.

The displacement of some 60,000 residents of northern Israel has prompted calls within Israel for firmer military action against Hezbollah. Across the border in Lebanon, some 90,000 people have also been displaced by Israeli strikes.

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The Israeli military said in April it had completed another step in preparing for possible war with Hezbollah that centered on logistics, including preparations for a broad mobilization of reservists.

More than 250 Hezbollah members and 75 civilians have been killed in Israeli strikes on Lebanon since October, sources in Lebanon say. In Israel, some 20 people - including soldiers and civilians - have been killed.

The United States and France have both been seeking to defuse the conflict through diplomacy.

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