Hezbollah says it fired rockets after Israeli airstrikes
BEIRUT (AP) – The Hezbollah militant group said it fired a barrage of rockets near Israeli positions near the Lebanese border on Friday, calling it retaliation against Israeli airstrikes on southern Lebanon a day earlier.
Israel said it was retaliating after 19 rockets were launched from Lebanon, and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett quickly called a meeting with the country’s top defense officials.
“We don’t want to degenerate into all-out war, but of course we are very prepared for it,” said Lt. Col. Amnon Shefler, Israel Defense Forces spokesman.
It was the second consecutive day of rocket fire from Lebanon. But where Hezbollah took responsibility for Friday’s bombing, it was not clear who was responsible for the attacks early Thursday, Shefler said.
Friday’s exchanges were a significant escalation between Israel’s new government and Iran-backed Hezbollah, and come amid mounting tensions between Israel and Iran that have played out in the Persian Gulf.
Israel’s defense minister on Thursday warned his country was ready to strike Iran, launching a threat against the Islamic Republic after a deadly drone strike on an offshore oil tanker that his country blamed on Tehran.
The UN peacekeeping force deployed along the Lebanese-Israeli border said it detected rocket fire from Lebanon on Friday and responded with artillery fire from Israel.
“This is a very serious situation and we urge all parties to cease fire,” said the force known as UNIFIL. The force’s commander, Gen. Stefano Del Col, said the force was coordinating with the Lebanese military to strengthen security measures in the region and called on the parties to cease fire immediately.
Sirens sounded over the Golan Heights and the Upper Galilee, near the Lebanese border on Friday morning. Hezbollah said in a statement that it had struck “open fields” near Israeli positions in the disputed area of Shebaa Farms, with “dozens” of rockets. No casualties were reported.
The group said it fired 10 rockets, calling it retaliation for the Israeli airstrikes the day before. These strikes were in retaliation for rocket fire from southern Lebanon, which was not claimed by any group.
Shebaa Farms is an enclave where the borders of Israel, Lebanon and Syria meet. Israel says it is part of the Golan Heights, which it captured from Syria in 1967. Lebanon and Syria say the Shebaa farms belong to Lebanon, while the United Nations says the region is part of Syria and that Damascus and Israel should negotiate its fate.
The escalation comes at a sensitive time in Lebanon, which is mired in multiple crises, including a devastating economic and financial collapse and a political stalemate that has left the country without a functioning government for a full year.
Hezbollah’s response, blowing up open fields in a disputed area rather than Israel proper, seemed calibrated to limit any response.
Shefler told reporters on Friday that 19 rockets were fired at Israel, three of which fell in Lebanese territory. Ten of the remaining 16 rockets were intercepted by the defense system known as the Iron Dome.
It is also a politically sensitive time in Israel. Israel’s new eight-party government coalition is trying to keep the peace under a fragile ceasefire that ended an 11-day war with militant Hamas leaders in Gaza in May.
Israel has long viewed Hezbollah as its most serious and immediate military threat. He estimates that the group has more than 130,000 rockets and missiles capable of hitting anywhere in Israel. In recent years, he has also expressed concerns that the group is trying to import or develop an arsenal of precision-guided missiles.
The attack sparked tensions between residents and Hezbollah. Videos circulated on social media after the rocket attack showing two vehicles, including a mobile rocket launcher, stopped by villagers in the village of Shwaya, in the southeastern region of Hasbaya, near the border. with the Golan Heights.
Some angry villagers, who belong to the Druze sect, could be overheard saying, “Hezbollah is firing rockets between houses to make Israel respond to us.
Hezbollah then released a statement saying the rockets were fired from remote areas, adding that the fighters were arrested in Shwaya on their way back.
“The Islamic Resistance was and always will be concerned about the safety of its people and to avoid any harm through its acts of resistance,” the statement said.
Hezbollah, which has fought alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad in the neighboring country’s civil war in recent years, named Friday’s operation after two of its fighters who were killed by Israeli fire.
Ali Mohsen was killed in July last year in an Israeli airstrike near the Syrian capital Damascus. Mohammed Tahhan was shot dead by Israeli troops along the Lebanese-Israeli border in May during a demonstration in support of Gaza during this year’s Israel-Hamas war.
Kellman reported from Tel Aviv, Israel. Associated Press writer Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed reporting.