Hariri: Israeli drones designed to up Mideast tensions


BEIRUT/TEL AVIV — Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri said two Israeli drones which crashed in a suburb of Beirut dominated by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah were designed to stir up regional tensions.

One drone fell and second exploded before dawn and caused some damage to Hezbollah's media center in the southern Dahiyeh suburbs, a Hezbollah official told Reuters, in the first such incident since the two sides waged war in 2006.

"The new aggression...constitutes a threat to regional stability and an attempt to push the situation toward further tension," Hariri said in a statement from his office.

The Israeli military declined to comment.

A spokesman for Lebanon's Hezbollah group said that Israeli drones that fell in Beirut had certain "targets" which investigations had so far not established.

Hezbollah's media officer Muhammad Afif told reporters in televised comments that the group's "position in response to this aggression" would come in the speech of the group's leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah later in the day.

The incident took place hours after the Israeli military said its aircraft had struck Iranian forces and Shiite militias near Syria's capital Damascus which it said had been planning to launch "killer drones" into Israel.

War monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said two members of Hezbollah, one Iranian and two more people of an unknown identity were killed in the Israeli strikes.

Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, told reporters "a number of attack drones", each armed with several kilograms of explosives, were to have been launched simultaneously at targets in northern Israel on Thursday but the plan was thwarted.

He did not disclose what measures Israel took that day. He described the "killer drones" — designed to slam into targets — as highly accurate. Conricus said the drones, accompanied by "Iranian operatives", had arrived at Damascus airport from Iran several weeks ago and were taken to a Quds-controlled compound in a village southeast of the city.

Israel carried out Saturday's attack, Conricus said, after learning that another attempt to launch drones was imminent.

"Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our forces operate in every sector against the Iranian aggression," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Twitter. "If someone rises up to kill you, kill him first."

In Tehran, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander denied that Iranian targets had been hit in the Israeli airstrikes in Syria, the semi-official ILNA news agency reported.

Israel deems Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah movement as the biggest threat across its border. They fought a month-long conflict in 2006 in which nearly 1,200 people, mostly civilians, died in Lebanon and 158 people died in Israel, mostly soldiers.

Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about Israeli planes regularly violating its airspace in recent years.

Residents in Dahiyeh said they heard a blast. A witness said the army shut the streets where a fire had started. A Hezbollah spokesman told Lebanon's NNA news agency the second drone was carried explosives causing serious damage to the media center. — Reuters