Israel hits Lebanon with artillery after rocket fire

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says enemies 'will pay the price for every act of aggression'

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Israel hit southern Lebanon with retaliatory artillery fire on Thursday after rockets were launched across the border, in what could be the biggest escalation between the two nations in a decade.

Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday evening regarding the increasing unrest across the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We will hit back at our enemies and they will pay the price for every act of aggression.

“Our enemies will learn again that during times of war, Israeli citizens stand together and united, and support the actions of the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] and the rest of the security forces to protect our country and our citizens.”

He went on to say that there was no intention to change the status quo at Jerusalem's holy sites and called for a calming of tension.

Israel would act firmly against extremists who are deploying violence, he added.

“The internal debate among us will not prevent us from acting against them anywhere and at any time,” he said, referring to ongoing protests against his government's proposed judicial reforms. “We are all — with no exception — united on this.”

There were reports that mortar shells had been launched towards the area near Metula from the Blue Line, the IDF said on Thursday evening, referring to the demarcation line between Lebanon and Israel, and Lebanon and the Golan Heights.

After searches in the area, two rocket launches were identified as having been launched from Lebanon into Israeli territory.

Earlier on Thursday, several shells were fired by Israel from the border, towards the outskirts of the two villages of Qlaileh and Maaliyeh in the south of Lebanon, the Lebanese National News Agency reported.

The Lebanese Army later said that “a number of rockets” had been launched towards the area in the district of Sour, before tweeting that one of its units had discovered missile launchers and rockets in Zibqin and Qlaileh.

A Lebanese security source confirmed the retaliation to The National, saying: “Yes, they fired at us”.

Israeli media reported that 30 rockets had been fired within 15 minutes — the most significant security incident in southern Lebanon in years — after initially claiming 100 had been fired.

Lebanese security sources played down the claim, saying 100 rockets was an exaggeration.

Israel said it had “identified 34 rockets that were fired from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory” and that 25 had been intercepted by Israeli air defences.

“Five rockets landed in Israeli territory. Regarding the four additional launches, the information about their location is under review. The statistics are not final,” the Israeli Defence Forces said.

Lt Col Avichay Adraee, spokesman for the Israeli army, blamed Hamas in Lebanon for the rocket attacks. The group's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, was in the Lebanon to meet members of Hezbollah when the rocket launches took place.

“We are also examining the possibility of Iran's involvement,” he wrote on Twitter.

At least three people were injured, including one person in Israel who received a minor shrapnel wound and a woman who suffered a panic attack, Israel's Magen David Adom emergency services said.

The UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon Unifil said it was aware of the reports and was responding. It confirmed that personnel in the south of Lebanon had been asked to shelter in bunkers and called for restraint.

This is the moment Israel intercepts rockets from Lebanon

This is the moment Israel intercepts rockets from Lebanon

“The IDF informed Unifil that it had activated its Iron Dome defence system in response. Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lazaro is in contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line,” a statement from the force said.

A resident of a village about a 20-minute drive inland from Sour said that members of his family had heard the Israeli response, but were uninjured.

“It’s been like this [for] 50 years. It’s normal for us,” the resident, who spends weeknights in Beirut, told The National.

The attacks came as Jews mark Passover and after clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians at Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest site, prompted warnings of retaliation from across the region.

Israeli police also said two suspects had been arrested during clashes in Umm Al Fahm.

Eli Cohen, Israel's Foreign Minister, said the timing of the inbound rockets was “not a coincidence”.

“First day of Passover. As we sit at the holiday table, family and friends, Israel is facing rockets from south and north … No one should test us, we will take all necessary measures to defend our country and people,” he wrote on Twitter.

Lebanon's pro-Iran armed movement Hezbollah said on Thursday that it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after the clashes in Jerusalem. The group denied being behind the initial rocket fire, suggesting Palestinian factions were responsible.

“Hezbollah forcefully denounces the assault carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against Al Aqsa Mosque compound and its attacks on the faithful,” Hezbollah said.

Mr Haniyeh of Hamas said: “We condemn the continuous Zionist aggression against the blessed Al Aqsa Mosque, and we consider it an unprecedented crime and an aggression against our Islamic nation and its sanctities.”

The UN urged all actors to exercise maximum restraint.

“The UN interim force in Lebanon remains in contact with authorities on both sides of the blue line and we urge the parties to liaise with our peacekeepers and avoid any unilateral action that could further escalate the situation,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Israeli police attacked worshippers at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday and Wednesday night after forcing their way inside.

The Gaza-based Islamic Jihad movement welcomed the attack, saying: “This is a heroic and strong resistance response to the enemy's crimes and aggression.”

Air raid sirens sounded in the Galilee region and the Israeli towns of Shlomi and Moshav Betzet, the Israeli army said.

Such cross-border rocket attacks have been rare between Lebanon and Israel since the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

In April 2022, Israel struck targets in Lebanon with artillery fire after a rocket was fired into Israel.

A small Palestinian faction active in Lebanon was suspected of being behind the launch but UN peacekeepers said there was not a wider conflict.

In May 2021, at least three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel but caused no damage.

Meanwhile, families were out walking in the Lebanese town of Sour on Thursday night, enjoying a typical Ramadan evening.

Anwar, a Palestinian restaurant worker, shrugged off Israel’s threats to retaliate harshly against Lebanon.

“People here are already dead,” said Anwar, who was relaxing by the seaside with a shisha.

“It can't get worse. I'm not scared.

“Even if Israel retaliated, they won't dare to start war as long as Hezbollah is here. They're too scared.”

Updated: April 07, 2023, 7:11 AM