An Israeli reservist with dual citizenship in the US and Israel has been killed in a Hezbollah missile strike in northern Israel.
Staff Sergeant Omer Balva, 22, was killed on Friday night by an anti-tank missile attack near the border with Lebanon, where cross-border skirmishes are intensifying, Israeli military officials confirmed.
Balva grew up in Rockville, Maryland and was in the US when he was called up for reserve service last week, promptly flying back to Israel to report for duty, according to the Times of Israel.
The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) says that in response to Hezbollah missile strikes, it launched a number of manned and unmanned airstrikes targeting the group’s positions in southern Lebanon.
The rising tensions in the north came as the IDF massed forces in southern Israel in preparation for a ground assault on the Gaza Strip, two weeks after Hamas launched a deadly surprise attack from the Palestinian enclave.
Dual Israeli-American citizen Omer Balva, 22, was killed on Friday night by an anti-tank missile attack near the border with Lebanon after being called up for IDF reserve duty
Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by Hezbollah fighters as seen from Tair Harfa village, a Lebanese border village with Israel, on Friday
A child of Israeli parents, Balva was born in Washington DC, and grew up in Maryland, where he attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish day school.
He moved to Israel at age 18 to complete military service in the IDF with support from a program called Garin Tzabar, which helps you soldiers who do not have at least one parent living in Israel, also known as ‘Lone Soldiers’.
Balva was a platoon commander in the 9203 battalion of the Alexandroni brigade, the IDF said.
After completing his military service, he studied business and economics at Reichman University International School in Herzliya, Israel, the school said in a social media post.
Meanwhile, the cross-border strikes between Israel and Lebanon renewed fears that Hezbollah could open a second front in the Israel-Hamas war.
Tension has been picking up along the border over the past two weeks, following the October 7 Hamas attack on southern Israel that killed over 1,400 civilians and troops.
Israel’s strikes on Gaza since then have killed over 4,000 Palestinians, according to figures from a Hamas-controlled health authority.
‘IDF aircraft attacked a series of military targets of the Hezbollah terrorist organization in the last few hours, in response to the firing of anti-tank missiles and launches into Israeli territory last night,’ the IDF said in a statement late Friday.
‘Among the targets that were attacked, a series of military compounds that were used by the organization for operational needs and terrorist infrastructure. In addition, the IDF attacked an anti-tank launcher located in the border area and aimed at Israel,’ the IDF added.
Like Hamas, Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed militant faction that is designated a foreign terrorist organization by the US and EU.
An Associated Press journalist in south Lebanon heard loud explosions along the border with Israel close to the Mediterranean coast on Saturday.
Smoke rises from inside an Israeli army position which was hit by Hezbollah fighters Friday
Israeli soldiers stand near a Merkava tank as they man a position at an undisclosed location on the border with Lebanon on Saturday
Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah and allied Palestinian factions have traded cross-border fire with Israel for days, after Hamas gunmen attacked communities in southern Israel
The Lebanese state-run National News Agency reported that Israeli shelling hit several villages, adding that a car was directly hit in the village of Houla. There was no immediate word on casualties.
An Israeli army spokesman said a group of gunmen fired a shell into Israel adding that an Israeli drone then targeted them.
He added that another group of gunmen fired toward the Israeli town of Margaliot and a drone attacked them shortly afterward.
‘Direct hits were scored in both strikes,’ Israeli army spokesman Avichay Adraee posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The near-daily exchanges of fire across the border have prompted civilians to flee, emptying out Lebanese towns near the border.
Nearly 4,000 people have fled flashpoint areas near the Israeli frontier and flocked to the southern Lebanese city of Tyre, according to local officials.
Around half are staying in three public schools that have been converted into makeshift shelters, while the rest hunker down with relatives or friends.
At least 22 people, including four civilians, have been killed on the Lebanese side, according to an AFP tally.
And at least three soldiers and one civilian have died in Israel as a result of Hezbollah missiles.