Israel strikes Lebanon and Gaza in major escalation

Attacks come after dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon the day before

Powered by automated translation

Israel bombarded south Lebanon and the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Friday, just as residents in both territories were preparing to have a suhoor meal before the start of the daily Ramadan fast.

The retaliatory strikes followed a day of rocket fire from Gaza and Lebanon into Israel as tensions rise over raids by Israeli police at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.

On Friday, violence again broke out at Al Aqsa Mosque compound and chaotic scenes were seen at one of the entrances to the esplanade before dawn prayers.

Baton-wielding Israeli police descended on crowds of Palestinian worshippers, who chanted slogans praising the rocket attacks as they tried to squeeze into the site.

An hour later, video footage appeared to show people staging a protest on the limestone courtyard, with Palestinians raising their fists and shouting in support of Hamas rocket fire, and Israeli police forced their way into the compound.

Israel has blamed the Gaza-based Hamas movement for Thursday's volley from the strip in the south and from Lebanon to its north. In Gaza, the Israeli army said its jets hit targets, including what it said were tunnels and weapons-manufacturing sites.

In Lebanon, at least two missile strikes were heard south of the coastal city of Tyre, as Israel conducted the overnight bombardment.

Tyre, which is about 20km from the border with Israel, was quiet after the initial strikes. Most residents took refuge in residential shelters or homes.

A small crowd of men gathered on the shoreline shortly after the attack, watching the thick cloud of smoke coming from the direction of the Rashidieh camp for Palestinian refugees on the outskirts of the city.

“What do they want with us?” one stunned resident was heard asking the crowd.

“When they said they’d respond I didn’t expect them to strike all the way in Tyre.”

Another strike appeared to have left a large crater in farmland, with security sources telling Reuters it was near where rockets had been fired.

Hamas condemned the attacks on Gaza and Lebanon, saying it held Israel “fully responsible for the consequences of such grave aggression”.

The Israeli military said. “We will not allow the Hamas terrorist organisation to operate from within Lebanon, and hold the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory.”

This week's exchange of rockets between Lebanon and Israel is the largest escalation between the two countries since the 2006 conflict, when Israel waged war against Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group.

Earlier on Thursday, before the rockets were fired, senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said any infringement on Al Aqsa would “inflame the entire region”.

Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party and Iran-backed paramilitary, is an ally of the Hamas movement in Gaza.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a statement condemning any military operations that threatened the country's stability. There was no immediate comment from Hezbollah.

This is the moment Israel intercepts rockets from Lebanon

This is the moment Israel intercepts rockets from Lebanon

The UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon known as Unifil said: “Early this morning, the [Israeli military] informed Unifil that they will begin an artillery response to yesterday’s rocket launches. Immediately after, Unifil personnel heard loud explosions around the city of Tyre.

“Unifil's head of mission and force commander, Maj Gen Aroldo Lazaro, is speaking with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line. Our liaison and co-ordination mechanisms are fully engaged.

“Both sides have said they do not want a war. The actions over the past day are dangerous and risk a serious escalation. We urge all parties to cease all actions across the Blue Line now.”

On the outskirts of Tyre, three women tilled the land near a field of lettuce. One shrugged off the missile strikes.

“We’re used to this,” said farmworker Ghalya Abu Zeid, a Syrian mother of two.

She told The National she had arrived in Lebanon less than two months ago after her home in Syria's Hama was destroyed in the massive earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria in February.

“We can't bunker down waiting to die,” she said. “We have to work. I have kids to feed.”

On Thursday, 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.

While the tensions risk dragging Hezbollah into a conflict similar to the 34-day 2006 war, Israel stressed that it struck only sites linked to Palestinian militants.

In recent years, Hezbollah has said it supported armed responses to Israel but has stayed out of other flare-ups related to the Al Aqsa Mosque.

The latest violence came after Israeli police attacked worshippers at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.

Following a cabinet meeting on Thursday regarding the increasing unrest across Israel, 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 [army] and the rest of the security forces to protect our country and our citizens.”

The tensions come as Israel is gripped by internal division over proposed judicial reforms that sparked mass rallies and led Mr Netanyahu to try to fire his Defence Minister, Yoav Gallant.

However, Mr Netanyahu clawed back Mr Gallant's dismissal and opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Wednesday night that the government could count on cross-party support following the rocket attack.

Mr Netanyahu said the people stand behind the military despite internal debate.

“The internal debate in Israel will not prevent us from taking action against them wherever and whenever necessary. All of us, without exception, are united on this,” Mr Netanyahu said.

Updated: April 07, 2023, 11:15 AM