Israel to resist escalation after exchange of fire

Lebanese Hizbullah militia send 19 rockets into northern Israel and Golan Heights

Israeli howitzers fire towards Lebanon from close to the northern town of Kiryat Shmona. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP

Israeli howitzers fire towards Lebanon from close to the northern town of Kiryat Shmona. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP

 

Israel says it not seeking escalation after a cross-border exchange of fire on Friday with the Iranian-backed Lebanese Hizbullah militia.

The Shia militia fired 19 rockets towards northern Israel and the occupied Golan Heights on Friday morning in a surprise attack that followed days of tension after Lebanon-based Palestinian groups had also fired projectiles towards Israel, prompting retaliatory Israeli air strikes.

Friday’s attack was the biggest rocket barrage from Lebanon towards Israel since the second Lebanon war in 2006.

Ten rockets were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence batteries on Friday; three of these fell inside Lebanon and the rest landed in open areas inside Israel.

No one was hurt. It was the sixth such attack in recent months, and the first where Hizbullah claimed responsibility.

Artillery shells

In response, Israel fired some 40 artillery shells towards the area from where the rockets were fired.

Druze residents of the south Lebanese town of Hasbeya blocked the alleged Hizbullah rocket launching squad assumed to have fired the barrage and prevented it from leaving the area.

Video clips on social media showed the car carrying the rocket launcher being surrounded as angry Druze residents said they were intent on preventing further rocket fire.

Lebanese army troops detained four people suspected of involvement in the launching of rockets and seized the rocket launcher.

Hizbullah’s deputy leader, Naim Qassem, said the organisation’s actions came as a response to Israel’s “aggression” – a reference to Thursday’s air strikes.

Israel army spokesperson Brig Gen Ran Kochav told reporters that Hizbullah deliberately fired towards open areas and not towards civilians.

‘No side wants war’

“We have no interest in escalation but we will continue to work to ensure that the northern border does not become a line of confrontation,” he said. “No side wants war but, on the other hand, we will not accept that this continues; that every two to three weeks there is firing towards the north.”

In a statement on Twitter, Unifil, the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon – which includes 351 Irish soldiers – said the rockets launched at Israel were fired outside of its area of operation in southern Lebanon.

“This is a very serious situation, and we urge all parties to cease fire,” Unifil said. “Unifil is actively engaging with the parties through all formal and informal liaison and co-ordination mechanisms to prevent the situation from spiraling out of control.”

Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, called on the United Nations to pressure Israel to stop “violating Lebanese sovereignty” and to restore calm to the area.

Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, said Lebanon bore sole responsibility for the rocket attacks. “We won’t allow Lebanon’s social, economic and political crisis to turn into a security threat against Israel,” he said.