JERUSALEM: Israeli jets struck rocket launch sites in Lebanon o Thursday in response to two rockets fired from across the border, in an escalation of cross-border hostilities amid heightened friction with Iran.
The rockets launched from Lebanon struck open areas in northern Israel, causing brush fires along the hilly frontier. There was no claim of responsibility for the attack, which came from an area of south Lebanon under the sway of Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.
Israel responded with several rounds of artillery fire on Wednesday before launching airstrikes early on Thursday, the military said. “(Military) fighter jets struck the launch sites and infrastructure used for terror in Lebanon from which the rockets were launched,” the military said in a statement, adding that it also struck an area that had seen rocket launches in the past.
Shortly after the strikes, Lebanon’s Al-Manar television, run by Hezbollah, said that Israeli warplanes had carried out two raids on the outskirts of the Lebanese town of Mahmudiya, about 12 km from the Israeli border. There were no reports of casualties.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Israel’s airstrikes were the first targeting Lebanese villages since 2006 and showed an escalation in its “aggressive intent”. Aoun also said in a tweet the strikes were a direct threat to the security and stability of southern Lebanon and violated UN Security Council resolutions.
Speaking to Israeli media, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “This was an attack meant to send a message … Clearly we could do much more, and we hope we won’t arrive at that.” Gantz said he believed a Palestinian faction had launched the rockets. Small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past.
The border has been mostly quiet since Israel fought a 2006 war against Hezbollah, which has advanced rockets. Israeli aircraft struck Hezbollah posts in the border area last summer. Israel says its aircraft last struck inside Lebanon in 2014.
Lebanon’s official news agency also reported the attacks but provided few details. It was the second straight day that Israel had reported rocket fire from Lebanon. Three rockets were fired on Wednesday, two of which reached Israel, striking near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona.
The Israeli army said it retaliated by carrying out three rounds of artillery shelling. The Lebanese army said 92 artillery shells fired by Israel landed in southern Lebanon following the rocket fire. It triggered multiple brush fires in the tinder-dry conditions but there were no reports of casualties.