Israel accused Palestinian groups of firing a barrage of cross-border rockets from Lebanon Thursday, just over a day after clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians inside Islam’s third-holiest site.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Israel’s enemies would “pay the price”.
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 Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006.
Twenty-five rockets were intercepted by Israeli air defences, while “five rockets landed in Israeli territory,” added the army statement. The attack was not immediately claimed by any group.
But Israeli army spokesperson Lt. Colonel Richard Hecht blamed Palestinian groups.
“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.
“We assume Hezbollah knew about it, and Lebanon also has some responsibility. We are also investigating whether Iran was involved,” he continued.
Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister Najib Mikati said he rejected any “escalation” from his country after the rocket attack.
The barrage came after Israeli police drew widespread condemnation from around the region for clashing early Wednesday with Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque — Islam’s third-holiest site.
Netanyahu on Thursday said in a cabinet meeting: “We will strike our enemies and they will pay the price for any act of aggression.”
Israeli emergency services reported one man lightly wounded by shrapnel and a female injured while running to a shelter during the attack.
– ‘Extremely serious’ –
Warning sirens sounded in the town of Shlomi and in Moshav Betzet and the Galilee in northern Israel, the army said.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which patrols the border area between the two countries that are technically still at war, urged restraint.
“The current situation is extremely serious,” said the force. “UNIFIL urges restraint and to avoid further escalation.”
The Israeli military denied to AFP that it had retaliated “thus far”, in response to reports from Lebanon’s National News Agency that Israel had struck targets in southern Lebanon.
According to the Lebanon report, Israeli artillery fired “several shells from its positions on the border” towards the outskirts of two villages after the launch of “several Katyusha type rockets” at Israel.
Defence Minister Yoav Gallant “completed a situation assessment with senior officials in Israel’s defence establishment”, after which he instructed “to prepare all the possible responses to recent events,” a statement said.
Inspecting his damaged office in the town of Shlomi, 46-year-old Shlomi Naaman told AFP: “I heard the siren, I heard the boom, I was in my home, it was very very scary.”
Also from Shlomi, Noy Atias, 21, said: “It’s not something so special… this is the reality in Israel.”
“Security is the most important thing in life, nothing else matters,” she said, accusing political leaders of being preoccupied by “things that are not important”.
– Al-Aqsa clashes –
Israeli riot police had on Wednesday stormed the prayer hall of Al-Aqsa mosque in a pre-dawn raid aiming to dislodge “law-breaking youths and masked agitators” they said had barricaded themselves inside.
The violence, during both the Jewish Passover and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, sparked an exchange of rockets and air strikes with militants in the Gaza Strip.
The US said it recognised “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression”, State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.
“Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad,” he added.
UN chief Antonio Guterres also condemned the rocket fire, calling on “all actors to exercise maximum restraint”.
France condemned what it called “indiscriminate rocket fire targeting Israeli territory from Gaza and southern Lebanon”.
Lebanon’s Iran-backed armed movement Hezbollah had warned earlier Thursday it would support “all measures” that Palestinian groups may take against Israel after the clashes.
“Hezbollah forcefully denounces the assault carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Al-Aqsa mosque compound,” the group said in a statement.
The Lebanese group has close ties with the Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, and with the Islamic Jihad militant group, which is also based in the coastal enclave.
The rockets came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Lebanon for a visit.
Haniyeh late Thursday said the Palestinians would not “sit with their arms crossed” in the face of Israeli “aggression” against Al-Aqsa.
He called in a statement on “all Palestinian organisations to unify their ranks and intensify their resistance against the Zionist occupation (Israel)”.
The last rocket fired from Lebanon into Israel was in April 2022.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)