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Hezbollah vows to intensify attacks against Israel after senior military commander is killed

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BEIRUT (AP) — Hezbollah vowed Wednesday to intensify its attacks along the Lebanon-Israel border to avenge the killing of its most senior military commander by Israel since the latest round of violence began eight months ago.

“Our response after the martyrdom of Abu Taleb will be to intensify our operations in severity, strength, quantity and quality,” senior Hezbollah official Hachem Saffieddine said during a funeral ceremony for Taleb Sami Abdullah. “Let the enemy wait for us in the battlefield.”

Earlier Wednesday, Hezbollah fired a massive barrage of rockets into northern Israel, further escalating tensions as the fate of an internationally backed plan for a cease-fire in Gaza hung in the balance.

Hezbollah, an Iran-backed ally of the Palestinian Hamas group, has traded fire with Israel nearly every day since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, and says it will only stop if there is a truce in Gaza. That has raised fears of a regional conflagration.

Abdullah, 55, was killed in an airstrike late Tuesday. On Wednesday afternoon, his coffin was brought to Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut. Hundreds of Hezbollah supporters and senior officials with the militant group attended the ceremony. The body was taken for burial in Abdullah’s hometown of Aadschit.

"It is natural that Abu Taleb was a permanent target,” Saffieddine said, adding that Abdullah had taken part in Hezbollah’s military operations including the 34-day Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006.

Air raid sirens sounded across northern Israel on Wednesday morning, and the military said about 215 projectiles were fired from southern Lebanon — one of the largest attacks since the latest fighting began. There were no immediate reports of casualties. Some projectiles were intercepted, while others ignited brush fires.

Hezbollah said it fired missiles and rockets at two military bases in retaliation for Abdullah’s killing.

The Israeli strike on Tuesday destroyed a house where Abdullah and three other officials were meeting, about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the border. The Israeli military said the attack was part of a strike on a Hezbollah command and control center used to direct attacks against Israel in recent months.

“Abdullah was one of Hezbollah’s most senior commanders in southern Lebanon who planned, advanced and carried out” a large number of attacks against Israeli civilians, the military said.

A Hezbollah official told The Associated Press that Abdullah was in charge of a large part of the Lebanon-Israel front, including the area facing the Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona, which Hezbollah has repeatedly attacked in recent days.

The official, who was not authorized to speak to media and spoke on condition of anonymity, said Abdullah had joined Hezbollah decades ago and took part in attacks against Israeli forces during their 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000.

Another Hezbollah official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Abdullah was the commander of the group’s Nasr Unit that is in charge of parts of south Lebanon close to the Israeli border.

Israeli airstrikes on Lebanon since October have killed over 400 people, most of them Hezbollah fighters, but the dead also include more than 70 civilians and non-combatants. On the Israeli side, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed since the war in Gaza began.

Abdullah’s sister Zeinab said her brother had been seeking “martyrdom for the past month,” adding that his death will encourage more young men to join the militant group.

“May God destroy Israel,” she told the AP.