Israeli fighter jets struck deep inside Lebanese territory early on Thursday, the first such attack to target south Lebanon since the month-long war between Iran-backed Hezbollah and Israel in 2006.
Hezbollah-affiliated Al Manar TV said Israeli jets struck twice an uninhabited area on the outskirts of Mahmoudieh town in south Lebanon.
The attack came hours after Israel fired artillery shells into Lebanon in response to rocket fire that targeted the Qiryat Shemona area.
The unclaimed attacks have increased in frequency in recent weeks, with the previous one on July 20.
There was no claim of responsibility for the rocket fire, launched from an area of south Lebanon under the sway of Hezbollah guerrillas. There were no casualties.
The Israeli military later said its fighter jets struck the “launch sites and infrastructure used for terror in Lebanon from which the rockets were launched”.
The head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon, Maj Gen Stefano Del Col, urged all sides to "explore ways to reinforce security and stability" during a tripartite meeting of senior officers from the Lebanese army and Israeli military at a UN post in Ras Al Naqoura border region.
“In this period of regional volatility, more than ever, UNIFIL’s liaison and coordination role must be respected by all sides,” he said. “In the most imperfect times, this mechanism has served you well and now is the time to recommit to it, not allow the spoilers to have the better of us.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said the attack signalled Israel’s “escalatory and aggressive intentions” against the backdrop of continuous threats and violations of Lebanon’s sovereignty.
"What happened is a flagrant and dangerous violation of Security Council Resolution 1701 and a direct threat to security and stability in the south,” Mr Aoun tweeted.
The cross-border exchange was the most significant since Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett took office in mid-June, although no casualties were reported on either side.
It was also the first aerial attack on south Lebanon in more than a decade, raising concerns of a potential retaliation by Hezbollah.
The leader of the Iran-backed party, Hassan Nasrallah, has vowed on numerous occasions to retaliate against Israeli attacks on Lebanon, saying last year that Hezbollah had doubled its arsenal of precision guided missiles and could strike anywhere in Israel.
Ibrahim Bayram, a Hezbollah expert, downplayed the possibility of a major escalation with Israel under the current circumstances.
Although the Israeli attack is a significant development and the first of its kind since the last war, Mr Bayram said it is important to note that it follows more frequent rocket attacks on Israel and the first on Qiryat Shemona in years.
The nature of the rocket attacks, which caused fires and panic among residents, prompted Israel to send a more harsh message, Mr Bayram said.
“But the exchange of strong messages is unlikely to lead to a war now,” he said.
The Israeli-Lebanese border has been relatively stable since the war that began in July 2006 when Israel launched a major offensive in response to the kidnapping of two of its soldiers. The 33-day conflict ended with a UN-brokered ceasefire. Sporadic rocket attacks since then were blamed on Palestinian factions.
The Israeli air strike comes amid increasing tensions between Iran and its US-allied regional rivals over alleged Iranian attacks on shipping in the Gulf.