US condemns rocket attack launched from southern Lebanon into Israel

Escalation in violence is raising fears of a wider conflict

A handout picture provided by the Lebanese Army showing a rocket launcher in the southern town of Qlaile used to fire rockets into Israel. AFP
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The US State Department condemned the salvo of rockets fired into Israel from Lebanon on Thursday, saying that Israel had the right to defend itself against all attacks.

Amid high tension at Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and along the border with Gaza, Israeli troops fired artillery into two towns in southern Lebanon, marking the highest escalation between the neighbouring countries in a decade.

“We condemn the launch of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza at Israel,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad, and we recognise Israel's legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression.”

The barrage of rockets came after two consecutive nights of attacks by Israeli police on Palestinian worshippers at al aq Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site where tens of thousands pray during Ramadan. It also comes as Jews observed Passover.

“We are concerned by the scenes out of Jerusalem and it is our viewpoint that it is absolutely vital that the sanctity of holy sites be preserved,” Mr Patel said.

“We emphasise the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo to us is unacceptable and we call for restraint co-ordination and call during the holiday season.”

Most of the 34 rockets fired on Israel were intercepted and there were no fatalities, Israel said.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby called "on all sides to de-escalate, reduce the violence".

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and Lebanon's pro-Iran armed movement Hezbollah denied it had a role.

But the escalation in violence has raised fears of a wider conflict.

With Israel still reeling from a nationwide protest movement over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to limit the authority of the nation's supreme court, the violent episode further fuels an already volatile political atmosphere.

“The calculation for Netanyahu, a war might actually be to his advantage because the expectation will be that the Israelis of all political persuasions will have to rally around the flag,” Khaled Elgindy, director of Palestine and Palestinian-Israeli Affairs at the Middle East Institute, The National.

“The escalation could be a very useful distraction from Netanyahu’s domestic problems."

The protests in Israel have included large numbers of military reservists, putting into question whether they would report for duty if called up.

“The sharp domestic conflict in Israel is very much a part of the story,” said Guy Laron, a fellow at the Wilson Centre.

Mr Laron said Mr Netanyahu is unlikely to drastically escalate the situation, preferring instead a more measured response.

“Netanyahu up to now has been cautious about using the army. He has instead relied on the air force, not getting close to a ground operation in Lebanon,” Mr Laron told The National.

In 2006, Israel launched a massive ground invasion of southern Lebanon triggered by cross-border rocket fire by Hezbollah. More than 1,000 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were killed during the 34-day war.

Akiva Eldar, a political analyst and author based in Jerusalem, said also at play is Mr Netanyahu’s lukewarm relationship with US President Joe Biden.

Mr Netanyahu’s right-wing government opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and supports the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.

“Netanyahu cannot expect the automatic support from Washington and he doesn’t have any interest in escalating,” Mr Eldar said.

“Short of attacking the source of the rockets, nobody has an interest in ending up in another war in Lebanon."

Israeli forces intercept rocket from Lebanon — in pictures

Updated: April 07, 2023, 7:09 AM