Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over the Mediterranean Sea

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JERUSALEM – The Israeli military said on Saturday it shot down three unmanned aerial vehicles launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, which were heading towards an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently installed in the Mediterranean Sea.

The plane’s launch appeared to be an attempt by Hezbollah to sway US-brokered negotiations between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime border, an area rich in natural gas.

In a statement, the Israeli said the planes were spotted early and did not pose an “imminent threat.” Nonetheless, the incident drew a stern warning from Israel’s Acting Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

“I stand before you at this moment and I say to all who seek our downfall, from Gaza to Tehran, from the shores of Lebanon to Syria: Don’t try us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since his taking office on Friday. “Israel knows how to use its strength against any threat, against any enemy.”

Israel earlier this month set up a gas rig in the Karish field, which Israel says is within part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon has claimed it is in disputed waters.

Hezbollah issued a brief statement confirming that it had launched three unarmed drones towards the contentious maritime issue over the Karish field as part of a reconnaissance mission. “The mission was accomplished and the message received,” it said.

Israel and Hezbollah are bitter enemies who waged a month-long war in the summer of 2006. Israel regards the Iranian-backed Lebanese group as its most serious imminent threat and estimates that they have about 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

The US said last week that mediator Amos Hochstein had held talks with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchange was productive and furthered the goal of reducing differences between the two sides. The United States will remain in touch with the parties in the coming days and weeks,” his office said in a statement last week.

The two countries, which have been officially at war since Israel’s founding in 1948, both claim about 860 square kilometers (330 sq mi) of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to exploit offshore gas reserves as it grapples with the worst economic crisis in its modern history.

On Saturday, Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati told reporters that Lebanon had received “encouraging information” about the border dispute but declined to comment further, saying Beirut was waiting for the “written official response to the Lebanese side’s proposals.” .

Associated Press writers Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report. Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over the Mediterranean Sea

Dustin Huang

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