Israel blames Lebanon rocket salvo on Palestinian groups

AP , AFP , Thursday 6 Apr 2023

Israel accused Palestinian groups of firing a barrage of cross-border rockets from Lebanon Thursday, just over a day after Israeli police attack on Palestinians inside Al-Aqsa Mosque.

An Israeli police bomb disposal unit member inspects the remains of a shell fired from Lebanon and intercepted by Israel in its northern town of Shlomi. AFP


Israel's army said it had "identified 34 rockets that were fired from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory" -- the largest escalation along the frontier since Israel and Lebanon fought a 34-day war in 2006.

Twenty-five rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defences, while "five rockets landed in Israel," added the army statement that followed the attack, which was not immediately claimed by any group.

Israeli army spokesperson Lt. Colonel Richard Hecht said Palestinian groups were responsible for the rockets.

"We know for sure it's Palestinian fire," he told reporters. "It could be Hamas, it could be Islamic Jihad, we are still trying to finalise but it wasn't Hezbollah.

A spokesperson for Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment. 

​Tensions have simmered along the Lebanese border as Israel appears to have ratcheted up its shadow war against Iranian-linked targets in Syria.

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.

In Israel, Thursday's rocket fire from Lebanon sent shrapnel flying that wounded at least two people.

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. 

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.

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 militant 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.

For the past two nights — a volatile time during which the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Passover overlap — Palestinians have barricaded themselves in the mosque with stones and firecrackers. Worshippers have been demanding the right to pray overnight inside the mosque — which authorities typically only permit during the last 10 days of the monthlong holiday. They also have stayed in the mosque in protest over threats by religious Jews to carry out a ritual animal slaughter at the sacred site for Passover.

On Wednesday night, Israeli police raided the mosque, firing stun grenades and rubber bullets to evict Palestinians.

The Israeli agression at the site has resonated across the region, with condemnations pouring in from Muslim leaders.

Israeli authorities control access to the area but the compound is administered by Islamic and Jordanian officials.

In a statement late Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu commented on the rockets attack saying “we will strike our enemies and they will pay a price for every act of aggression.”

He said Israelis remain united in the face of external enemies despite their domestic political divisions.

"After 100 days in office, Netanyahu has led Israel to a dangerous escalation", reported Israeli daily, Haaretz on Thursday. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon toward Israel, calling on "all actors to exercise maximum restraint," his spokesman said Thursday.

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