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All eyes are on the Israel-Lebanon border after the killing of a Hamas leader in Beirut

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Let's turn now to the border between Israel and Lebanon, where tensions are rising. It's the region where Israel and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah have been exchanging fire since the beginning of the war. NPR's Lauren Frayer is in northern Israel near the Lebanon border and joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ayesha. Thanks for having me.

RASCOE: So, Lauren, where exactly are you? And what's the situation where you are?

FRAYER: So I'm in northern Israel, about a mile from the Lebanon border. I'm actually sitting on the side of the road at an abandoned sort of strip mall. Most of this area has been evacuated since just after October 7. So I'm sitting in front of, like, a four-lane road that's basically empty. We're hearing lots of war planes overhead constantly and a few pretty big booms. No air raid sirens here so far today. But in recent days, there have been lots and lots of cross-border rocket fire from Hezbollah and a lot of outgoing Israeli military strikes.

A few businesses are open here. There are probably as many soldiers as civilians on the roads. Hezbollah hasn't done, you know, any ground invasion, and neither has Israel yet. I walked around some houses here with sort of holes in the side of them. But there are few injuries, thankfully, because, like I said, most of this area has been evacuated.

RASCOE: So this is an area where people evacuated three months ago, and they haven't been back since?

FRAYER: Yeah. So this is an area, you know, that is right on the border of Lebanon. And the fear here is kind of like what happened in the south with Hamas on October 7 - that militants, you know, crossed into Israel in the south from Gaza, and the fear is that that could happen here - that militants from Hezbollah could cross into Israel in the north. And those fears have really been heightened in the past few days since the assassination last week of a Hamas leader named Saleh al-Arouri in the Lebanese capital, Beirut. That was an attack that was blamed on Israel, though Israel didn't explicitly claim responsibility. But since then, there's been this volley of Hezbollah rockets into Israel and Israeli strikes, tanks, artillery, airstrikes into Lebanon. And like I mentioned, you know, warplanes are constantly flying back and forth over this border right now.

RASCOE: So U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in the region and has a lot on his plate with the war in Gaza and fears of a new front where you are. So what's his schedule there?

FRAYER: So he's in the Persian Gulf countries today. He's been talking to regional leaders about, you know, a role that they might play in rebuilding Gaza when the fighting ends. Blinken and the Biden administration have also been putting subtle pressure on Israel to curtail its attacks on Gaza. You know, more than 22,000 people have been killed in Gaza according to health officials there - mostly civilians. And Blinken said, quote, "far too many Palestinians have been killed." But he's also said Israel has a right to defend itself and eliminate the threat of any, you know, future October 7-like attack. He lands in Israel tomorrow night. He'll be meeting with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's also going to do a trip into Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian leaders there.

RASCOE: Obviously, fighting continues in Gaza. What is the latest there?

FRAYER: Well, Israel says it's entered a new phase of fighting in Gaza - that it's wrapped up major combat in the north and is focusing on the south, on hunting Hamas leaders and finding Israeli hostages there. But airstrikes continue, and in fact, today, two journalists working for international media were in a car that was hit by an Israeli airstrike. One of them is the son of Wael Dahdouh. He's a well-known journalist with Al Jazeera and famous for continuing reporting after the rest of his family was killed early in the war. Now his son has been killed.

There's also been an Israeli airstrike today in the West Bank, and Palestinian health officials say six people were killed there. Israel's military said it fired on Palestinians after a patrol vehicle was struck by an explosive device and an Israeli border officer was killed.

RASCOE: That's NPR's Lauren Frayer in northern Israel near the Lebanon border. Thank you so much for joining us.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ayesha Rascoe is a White House correspondent for NPR. She is currently covering her third presidential administration. Rascoe's White House coverage has included a number of high profile foreign trips, including President Trump's 2019 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam, and President Obama's final NATO summit in Warsaw, Poland in 2016. As a part of the White House team, she's also a regular on the NPR Politics Podcast.
Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.
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