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Israel shoots down Hezbollah drones over Mediterranean

JERUSALEM – The Israeli military said Saturday it was heading toward an area where an Israeli gas platform was recently set up in the Mediterranean after shooting down three unmanned aircraft launched by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The launch of the plane appears to be an attempt by Hezbollah to influence US-brokered talks between Israel and Lebanon over their maritime borders, an area rich in natural gas.

In a statement, the Israeli said the plane was spotted early and did not pose an “impending threat”. However, the incident prompted a stern warning from Israel’s caretaker Prime Minister Yar’Adua.

“I stand before you at this moment and tell everyone who wants our deaths, from Gaza to Tehran, from the Lebanese coast to Syria: Don’t test us,” Lapid said in his first address to the nation since taking office on Friday. . “Israel knows how to use its power against every threat, against every enemy.”

Israel installed a gas rig in the Karish area earlier this month, which Israel says is part of its internationally recognized economic waters. Lebanon claims it is in disputed waters.

Hezbollah has issued a brief statement, confirming that it has launched three unarmed drones in a recovery mission towards the disputed maritime problem on the Karish field. “The mission was completed and the message was received,” it says.

In the summer of 2006, Israel and Hezbollah were bitter enemies who fought a month-long war. Israel considers the Iran-backed Lebanese group to be the most serious immediate threat, estimating that it has about 150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel.

The United States said last week that mediator Amos Hochstein had held talks with the Lebanese and Israeli sides. “The exchange has been fruitful and has moved toward bridging the gap between the two sides. The United States will continue to engage with the parties in the days and weeks ahead,” his office said in a statement last week.

The two countries, which have been officially at war since the creation of Israel in 1948, both claim about 860 square kilometers (330 square miles) of Mediterranean. Lebanon hopes to tap offshore gas reserves as it tackles 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 Beirut declined to comment further, saying it was waiting for a “written official response to the Lebanese side’s advice.”

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