• Defense minister warns Hezbollah against making a ‘grave mistake’ if it continues to attack areas near Israel’s northern border

TEL AVIV (Agencies): Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has warned the Lebanon-based Hezbollah group that it is on the verge of making a costly mistake should it continue carrying out attacks close to Israel’s northern border, adding that it would be the Lebanese citizens who would pay the price in an escalation of conflict.

Speaking while on a visit to troops at the IDF’s 91st Division’s base in northern Israel on Saturday, Gallant warned the Hezbollah leadership that it is “close to making a grave mistake,” The Times of Israel reported. He added that it would be the people of Beirut who would suffer should skirmishes continue in Israel’s north.

“Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon into a war that may happen, and it is making mistakes,” Gallant said. “If it makes mistakes of this kind, the ones who will pay the price are first of all the citizens of Lebanon. What we are doing in Gaza we know how to do in Beirut,” the minister warned.

On Friday, Israel killed seven Hezbollah fighters close to its Lebanese border, bringing to 78 the number who have died since the Hamas cross-border attack in southern Israel last month.

The Iranian-backed Lebanese political and militant group named the seven dead fighters in a statement soon afterwards, saying that they had been “martyred on the road to Jerusalem” – a phrase frequently used by Hezbollah when referencing the deaths of its militants.

The increased death toll in Lebanon, as well as the killing of 18 Palestinians by Israeli forces in the West Bank on Thursday, prompted Iran’s foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, to predict earlier this week that a wider escalation of the conflict appeared to be inevitable.

Speaking on Saturday in what were his second long-form comments since the start of Israel’s renewed conflict with Hamas in October, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said that there had been “an upgrade” in the group’s operations on its front with Israel.

“There has been a quantitative improvement in the number of operations, the size and number of targets, as well as an increase in the type of weapons,” Nasrallah said, according to Reuters.

Addressing the Hezbollah threat, Gallant said that the “noses of [our] planes are pointing north,” adding that the Israeli Air Force is using just one-tenth of its assets in Gaza.

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