The military and Lebanese officials said Israel intensified its response to rocket attacks this week by launching rare airstrikes on Lebanon on Thursday.
The Israeli military said in a statement that the jets struck the launch sites from which the rockets were fired the previous day, as well as an additional target used to attack Israel in the past. The IDF blamed the state of Lebanon for the shelling and warned “against further attempts to harm Israeli citizens and Israeli sovereignty.”
The overnight airstrikes in southern Lebanon were a marked escalation in a politically sensitive time. Israel’s new eight-party regime coalition is trying to keep the peace under a delicate ceasefire that ended an 11-day war with the militant Hamas rulers in Gaza in May. Several incidents of rocket fire from Lebanon this week have focused on Israel’s northern border, and the United States has increasingly condemned the attacks on Israel.
The attacks come even as Lebanon is mired in several crises, including a devastating economic and financial crisis and political stalemate that has left the country without a functional government for a full year.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Israel’s use of its air force to target Lebanese villages “is the first of its kind since 2006 and signaled the presence of aggressive, provocative intentions against Lebanon”. In a statement, he said Lebanon would submit a complaint to the United Nations.
Israel and the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah fought a devastating, month-long war in 2006 that killed about 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and about 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The war group’s rockets failed to neutralize the threat, and Israeli officials say Hezbollah’s advanced missile arsenal is now capable of striking almost anywhere in the country.
No one has claimed responsibility for the rockets fired from Lebanon and Hezbollah has not commented. Hezbollah-owned al-Manar TV reported the Israeli attacks at around 2 a.m. Thursday, saying they hit an empty area in the village of Mahmoudia in Marzayoun district.
Avichai Adrai, the Arabic-language spokesman for the Israeli military, said the Lebanese government was responsible for what happens on its territories and warned against further attacks on Israel from south Lebanon.
Israel’s military said three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory on Wednesday and the army responded with continuous artillery fire. The announcement came after sirens sounded warning of a possible rocket attack in northern Israel. The military said two rockets landed in Israeli territory.
Channel 12 reported that one rocket exploded in an open area and the other was intercepted by Israel’s defense system, known as the Iron Dome. Israeli media reported that incoming rockets opened fire near Kiryat Shamona, a community of about 20,000 people, near the Lebanese border.
The Lebanese army reported 92 artillery shells fired by Israel on Lebanese villages as a result of rocket fire from Lebanon. It said the fire broke out in the village of Rasha al-Fukhar as a result of Israeli artillery shelling. In a statement, the Lebanese military also said it was patrolling the border area and had established several checkpoints and launched an investigation to trace the source of the rocket fire.
There have been many such incidents in recent months.
US State Department spokesman Ned Price condemned the rocket launch from Lebanon.
“Israel has a right to defend itself against such attacks,” he told reporters in Washington. He added that the US “will continue to engage with partners in the region in an effort to de-escalate the situation.”
At the United Nations, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, was aware of the rocket fire and Israeli artillery response. He said the UNIFIL commander, Major General Stefano del Col., appealed for a ceasefire and urged both sides to “exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation”.