BEIRUT: A rare rocket barrage from south Lebanon into Israel Thursday drew a quick condemnation from top Lebanese leaders, who said the attack infringed on Lebanese sovereignty and was aimed at destabilizing the country.
Two of four rockets fired from an area near the southern city of Tyre crashed into Israel, Lebanese security sources said, while the Israeli military said one projectile was shot down by the “Iron Dome” defense system. No casualties were reported.
The attack, the second of its kind since May, was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades, an Al-Qaeda-linked group which claimed similar rocket fire on Israel in 2009 and 2011.
The Lebanese Army confirmed the attack, saying in a statement that four Katyusha rockets were fired from an area south of Tyre into Israel at 4:50 p.m.
Army units searched and inspected the area where four wooden launching pads were discovered on the outskirts of the village of Hawsh, the statement said.
The Army and UNIFIL peacekeeping forces have launched an investigation, it added.
Security sources said two pairs of rockets aimed at Israel were fired from the Batoulieh Valley near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh, southeast of Tyre.
One pair of rockets shot past the border into Israel while the other fell in the border village of Alma in Lebanon, one source said.
Lebanon’s National News Agency said two Israeli Unmanned Aerial Vehicles flew at low altitudes over Tyre soon after the rocket attack.
Israel accused Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists, and not Hezbollah, of being behind the incident, while Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu warned of retaliation.” Anyone who harms us, or tries to harm us, should know we will harm them,” he said in a televised address.
Hezbollah did not comment on the incident, but one of its MPs, Hasan Fadlallah, told LBCI: “We neither condemn, nor support any act targeting the Israeli enemy.”
President Michel Sleiman, currently on a private visit to France, condemned the incident as a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701 and Lebanon’s sovereignty.
Sleiman asked security agencies to uncover the perpetrators and refer them to the judiciary.
Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said the government condemned the attack, describing it as a “blatant violation” of Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s war on Lebanon in the summer of 2006.
“The rocket incident is a clear attempt to destabilize the security situation in the south and again turn Lebanon into an arena to settle [regional] conflicts and send messages in this or that direction,” Mikati said in a statement released by his office.Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam denounced the attack as “a suspicious act” that might harm Lebanon and trigger Israeli aggression.
Speaking to The Daily Star, residents living near the border denied Israel had retaliated for the attack as reported earlier by some media outlets.
The rocket fire comes over two weeks after a blast wounded four Israeli soldiers in Lebanon off the border village of Labbouneh, an attack that was claimed by Hezbollah.
It also comes as Lebanon is facing mounting security threats resulting from the repercussions of the civil war in Syria.
The Israeli military said that of the four rockets, two struck Israeli communities without causing casualties, a third was intercepted by the “Iron Dome” missile shield and the fourth fell outside Israeli territory.
The army said its Iron Dome missile defense system “successfully intercepted” one of the rockets between the coastal towns of Acre and Nahariya.
“Two other rockets landed in populated areas causing damage, but no injuries,” the statement added, while the fourth may have fallen into the sea or elsewhere.
The Israeli army said it held Lebanon’s government and Army responsible for the incident, quoting army spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai as saying the rockets were “launched by the global jihad terror organization,” an apparent reference to Al-Qaeda.
UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra described the firing as “a serious violation” of Resolution 1701.
“The launching of rockets today ... shows that there are people who would like to disturb the quiet in this area ... I strongly condemn this violation,” he said in a statement released by UNIFIL.
Serra established contact with senior commanders of the Lebanese and Israeli armies and urged them to exercise “maximum restraint and cooperate with UNIFIL in order to prevent an escalation.”
Separately, a Lebanese Army patrol discovered an explosive device of 500 grams of TNT primed for detonation on the outskirts of the southern town of Maarakeh, east of Tyre, an Army statement said. An Army demolitions expert dismantled the device.
Elsewhere, Army troops arrested the driver of a pickup truck loaded with a large quantity of preventive gas masks in the village of Kfeir in the Hasbaya region, the military said in separate statement.