Terrorists in Lebanon fired a heavy barrage of rockets at Israel on Thursday, the Israeli military said, forcing people across Israel’s northern frontier into bomb shelters, wounding at least two people.
Israel’s military said 34 rockets had been fired across the border, and that 25 were shot down by its Iron Dome aerial defense system. Another five rockets struck Israeli territory and the rest of the strikes were being investigated, security forces added. The army’s response would come after “a situational assessment” and meeting by Israel’s Security Cabinet later Thursday, it said.
The unusually large salvo of rockets raised fears of a wider conflagration, as Israel’s bitter enemy, the Iran-backed militant group Hezbollah, holds sway over much of southern Lebanon. Over the past two days, tensions have skyrocketed at the sacred compound home to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and along Israel’s tense border with Gaza.
In a briefing with reporters, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army drew a clear connection between the rocket fire and the recent unrest in Jerusalem.
“It’s a Palestinian-oriented event,” he said, adding that either the Hamas or Islamic Jihad militant groups could be involved. But he said the army believed that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government were aware of what happened and also held responsibility. He declined to say how Israel might respond, saying there were “all sorts of scenarios.”
Earlier on Thursday and late Wednesday night, Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired several rockets toward Israel in protest after Israeli police stormed into the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City with tear gas and stun grenades to evacuate Arabs who had barricaded themselves inside. On Thursday, Hezbollah condemned Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa, calling it “a flagrant violation”.
No faction in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the salvo of rockets, which set off air raid sirens across the country’s north. A Lebanese security official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media, said the country’s security forces believed the rockets were launched by a Lebanon-based Palestinian militant group, not by Hezbollah militants. The official said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side.
A spokesperson for Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment. Both Israel and Hezbollah have avoided an all-out conflict since their 34-day war in 2006 ended with a draw.
Tensions have simmered along the Lebanese border as Israel appears to have ratcheted up its shadow war against Iranian-linked targets in Syria, another close ally of Iran, Israel’s archenemy in the region. Suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers and temporarily put the country’s two largest airports out of service. Hecht said Thursday’s rocket fire was not believed to be connected to events in Syria.
In Washington, Principal Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said “Israel has legitimate security concerns and has every right to defend themselves. “
But he also urged calm in Jerusalem. “We emphasize the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and any unilateral action that jeopardizes the status quo to us is unacceptable,” he said.
In Israel, Thursday’s rocket fire from Lebanon sent shrapnel flying that wounded at least two people, according to the Galilee Medical Center. They included a 19-year-old man who was struck while driving in the Arab village of Fassouta and a 26-year-old hit while riding a motorbike. Israeli police said a bomb squad removed a number of fragments from areas in the north.
Videos on social media showed massive plumes of dark smoke billowing from Israel’s northern hills and streaks through the sky left by the Iron Dome system. Widely circulated photos showed shrapnel that punched a hole in a street in the northern Israeli town of Shlomi and at least one building with its windows blown out.
Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency, along with Lebanese officials, reported that Israeli tanks along the border fired shells toward southern Lebanese towns near the Rashidiyeh Palestinian refugee camp in response to the rocket fire. Hecht, the army spokesman, denied the claim and said there had been no Israeli fire.
The Lebanese army said in a statement that it found missile launchers and “a number of rockets intended for launch” in the vicinity of the towns of Zibqin and Qalila in south Lebanon and was working to dismantle them.
The Palestinian terror group Islamic Jihad hailed the rockets as “a heroic operation against the Israeli crimes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The leader of the Palestinian Hamas group that rules Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, had arrived in Beirut on Wednesday, Lebanese state media reported.
In Jerusalem, tensions ran high after two nights of unrest. Conflicting claims over the sacred compound home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque have spiraled into violence in the past, including a bloody 11-day war in 2021 between Israel and Hamas.
(YWN Israel Desk is keeping you updated on Motzei Yom Tov from Jerusalem.)
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem & AP)