BEIRUT -- The Israeli military said its air force on Monday struck targets of the militant Hezbollah group “deep inside Lebanon,” as Lebanese officials said targets were hit near the northeastern city of Baalbek. At least two Hezbollah members were killed in the strikes, an official for the Lebanese militant group said.

The strikes are among the deepest into Lebanon since the Israel-Hamas war began more than four months ago. They come a day after Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant vowed to step up attacks on Hezbollah even if a ceasefire is reached with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The strikes, which came shortly after Hezbollah said its air defences shot down an Israeli drone, are likely to increase tensions along the Lebanon-Israel border as talks for a ceasefire in Gaza are underway.

In the afternoon, Hezbollah said it retaliated for the airstrikes near Baalbek by firing 60 Katyusha rockets toward an Israeli army division command in Syria's Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The Israeli military confirmed that dozens of rockets were launched from Lebanon towards Israel on Monday afternoon.

Lebanese security officials said Israel's air force carried out three airstrikes on the outskirts of the village of Buday, near Baalbek, targeting a convoy of trucks. Buday is a Hezbollah stronghold.

A Hezbollah official confirmed that three strikes hit near Baalbek. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to reporters. He said the strikes killed at least two members of the group and that one hit a warehouse for food products that is part of Hezbollah's Sajjad Project that sells to people in its stronghold at prices lower than on the market.

Hezbollah later released the names and photographers of two of its fighters without saying where they were killed. The latest deaths raise to nearly 210 the number of Hezbollah fighters who have been killed since the exchanges of fire along the border began on Oct. 8.

A Lebanese army soldier who was off-duty and at home was seriously injured in one of the strikes near Baalbek, a Lebanese official with knowledge of the situation said. The soldier's son was also injured, added that official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to share information with journalists.



The airstrikes near Baalbek occurred less than two hours after Hezbollah said its fighters on Monday shot down an Israeli Elbit Hermes 450 drone over its stronghold in a province in southern Lebanon. Another missile fired by Hezbollah toward the drone was intercepted by Israel, and landed near a synagogue in a town close to Nazareth in northern Israel. There were no injuries or damage.

The Israeli army said in a statement later in the day that its fighter jets struck sites used by Hezbollah in the eastern Bekaa Valley. It said they were in retaliation for Hezbollah's firing of a surface-to-air missile at the Israeli drone.

The strike on Baalbek, because of its location deep inside Lebanon, is the most significant one since the early January airstrike on Beirut that killed top Hamas official Saleh Arouri.

In the afternoon, an Israeli strike hit a car in the southern village of Majadel, near the border with Israel killing a Hezbollah field commander, an official with the group said. The Israeli army said it killed Hassan Salami, Hezbollah's commander in the Hujair Valley region, adding that he was responsible for carrying out rocket attacks on northern Israel.

Hezbollah, which is an ally of Hamas, has said it will halt its near-daily attacks on Israel if a ceasefire is reached in Gaza.

However, Gallant, the Israeli defence minister, said Sunday that anyone who thinks a temporary ceasefire for Gaza will also apply to the northern front is "mistaken."

Hezbollah's deputy leader Shiekh Naim Kassem warned in a speech Monday that the group has much more weapons to use if Israel expands the war.

"If the Israelis go too far, we will retaliate more. All what we have used until now in the fighting is the minimum of what we own," he said in an apparent reference to Hezbollah's huge arsenal including precision-guided missiles and explosive drones.

Western diplomats have brought forward a series of proposals for a cessation of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, most of which would hinge on Hezbollah moving its forces 7-10 kilometres (4-6 miles) away from the border.

This will come in addition to a beefed-up Lebanese army presence, and negotiations for Israeli forces to withdraw from disputed points along the border where Lebanon says Israel has been occupying small patches of Lebanese territory since it withdrew from the rest of the country's south in 2000.

Lebanon's caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bouhabib said Monday that he discussed with the country's prime minister, Najib Mikati, a French proposal about the southern region, adding that the Lebanese side is working on a response that the French should have by next week.

"We welcome the French role," Bouhabib said, adding that Lebanon wants a solution that includes the disputed Chebaa Farms and Kfar Chouba hills that Israel captured from Syria during the 1967 Mideast war. Beirut says the disputed area belongs to Lebanon and Israel should withdraw.

Hezbollah has signalled its willingness to entertain the proposals but has said there will be no deal in Lebanon before there is a ceasefire in Gaza.


Lidman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writers Abby Sewell and Kareem Chehayeb in Beirut contributed to this report.