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Israel expands evacuation of northern border towns amid fighting with Hezbollah

An Image released by IDF on Oct. 12 shows Israeli forces in the Northern Command sector deploy to settlements near the norther Israeli border with Lebanon. On Sunday, Israel expanded the evacuation order to a total 14 communities. Photo by IDF/ UPI
An Image released by IDF on Oct. 12 shows Israeli forces in the Northern Command sector deploy to settlements near the norther Israeli border with Lebanon. On Sunday, Israel expanded the evacuation order to a total 14 communities. Photo by IDF/ UPI | License Photo

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Israel has again expanded its evacuation of communities along its northern border with Lebanon amid increased fighting with Hezbollah in the neighboring country.

The evacuation includes a total 14 communities whose residents will be taken to state-funded guests houses, Israel's ministry of defense said Sunday.

Israel has been waging war against Hamas in the blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza since Oct 7, when the militant group launched a surprise attack that killed some 1,400 people.

Amid the war in southern Israel, the Iran-backed and Lebanese-based Hezbollah has been increasingly fighting the Israeli military in the north, raising worries in Washington and elsewhere of the conflict expanding in the Middle East.

Israel first ordered its citizens living in a narrow 1.2-mile band of the Lebanese border out on Oct. 16, with an expanded evacuation ordered Friday.

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The ministry said some 120,000 Israelis were participating in the evacuation program that involved the use of 234 guest houses and hotels across the country.

The evacuation was called as Israeli warplanes overnight struck Hezbollah targets in Lebanon.

The Israeli Defense Forces said early Monday that it hit a terrorist cell "planning to carry out an anti-tank missile launched towards the town of Shlomi." Targets hit also included weapons, infrastructure, a military compound and an observation post, it said.

The attack came after it said late Sunday that it had struck two Hezbollah terrorist cells at the Lebanese border.

The seemingly intensifying cross-border fighting comes as officials in Washington worry that the war may be expanding and as they warn Iranian proxies to not try and take advantage of the situation.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on a tour of the Sunday news circuit said the Biden administration is concerned that Iran, which is also aligned with Hamas, was trying to escalate the war.

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"No one wants a second or third front, including when it comes to Lebanon," he told Kristen Welker of NBC's Meet the Press.

"That's not in anyone's interest, and that's exactly why we've sent a very strong message to try to deter Hizballah, deter Iran more directly, from opening up a second front," he said, referring to President Joe Biden's warnings to the Iranian regimen.

"He has put the countries and non-state actors on warning: don't take advantage of the situation."

Attack aftermath: Scenes from Israel's Kibbutz Be'eri

Israeli soldiers search a destroyed Jewish home in the southern Israeli community of Kibbutz Be'eri on October 22, 2023. Helping the search are the white coated Zaka forensic unit. Photo by Jim Hollander/UPI | License Photo

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