Hezbollah says front with Israel will remain active

Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters, in Beirut

BEIRUT (Reuters) -The head of Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah party said on Saturday that its armed wing had used new types of weapons and struck new targets in Israel, and pledged that the front against its sworn enemy would remain active.

It was Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's second speech since the war between Israel and Hamas began in October. In his first, he said there was a possibility of fighting on the Lebanese front turning into a fully-fledged war.

On Saturday, in a televised address, he said Hezbollah had shown "a quantitative improvement in the number of operations, the size and the number of targets, as well as an increase in the type of weapons".

He said it had used a "Burkan" missile that carries an explosive payload of 300-500 kg, as well as weaponised drones for the first time.

Nasrallah said the group had also struck the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona for the first time in retaliation for an Israeli air strike that killed three girls and their grandmother this month.

"This front will remain active," he pledged.

Soon after, Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant told troops near the Israel-Lebanon border: "Hezbollah is dragging Lebanon into a war that might happen.

"It is making mistakes and ... those who will pay the price are first and foremost Lebanon's citizens. What we are doing in Gaza we can do in Beirut."

Israeli military spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari said later on Saturday that fighter jets and artillery struck many Hezbollah targets in response to its fire across the border. Israel also struck Syria in response to rocket launches there, the military said.

Hezbollah, founded by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in 1982, is the spearhead of a Tehran-backed alliance hostile to Israel and the United States. It fought a month-long war against Israel in 2006.

The group has been exchanging fire with Israeli forces at the Lebanese-Israeli frontier since Oct. 8, but the tit-for-tat shelling has been largely restricted to the border and Hezbollah has mostly struck military targets.

Still, at least 70 of its fighters have been killed, along with several Lebanese civilians.

Nasrallah on Saturday said one "new factor" in the current confrontations was Israel's use of drone warfare. "That means every step forward (by a fighter) amounts to a suicide operation," he said.

Israel has heavily bombarded Hamas-ruled Gaza following the Oct. 7 cross-border assault by the group that Israel says killed around 1,200, with about 240 abducted as hostages back to the Palestinian enclave.

Gaza health authorities say more than 11,000 people - many of them women and children - have been killed since Israel started its blitz on the small coastal strip of 2.3 million people.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Maya Gebeily in Beirut; and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; editing by Giles Elgood)