Israeli strikes target Hamas in Lebanon and Gaza after rocket assault

Smoke and flames rise during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Bashar Talib

Israel's military struck targets in Lebanon and Gaza early on Friday morning in retaliation for rocket assaults it blamed on the Islamist group Hamas, as tensions threatened to spiral out of control following police raids this week on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Israel's jets reportedly struck ten targets in Gaza, including tunnels and weapons production and development facilities belonging to Hamas, which administers the blockaded southern coastal strip.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., the military announced that it had also targeted three Hamas infrastructure targets in southern Lebanon, where residents in the Rashidiyeh refugee camp near Tyre reported hearing three loud explosions.

"We strongly condemn the blatant Zionist aggression against Lebanon in the vicinity of Tyre at dawn today," Hamas said.

Two Lebanese security sources reported that the strike struck a small structure on farmland close to the area from which the earlier rockets had been launched.

According to Reuters witnesses, the strike appeared to have left a sizable crater in farmland in the south.

On Friday morning, a Lebanon's Civil Defense member on the scene reported no casualties.

The assaults were a response to rocket fire from Lebanon into northern Israel, which Israeli officials attributed to Hamas. According to the military, 25 of the 34 missiles launched from Lebanon were intercepted by air defence systems. It was the most powerful attack since Israel waged war with the heavily armed Hezbollah movement in 2006.

After a security cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated, "Israel's response, tonight and later, will exact a significant price from our enemies."

In response to the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, salvoes of rockets were launched, and sirens sounded in bordering Israeli towns and cities. However, there were no reports of severe injuries, and only one rocket hit its intended target, causing damage to a home in the southern Israeli town of Sderot.

Israeli police assaults on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, coinciding with the Jewish Passover holiday this year, precipitated the cross-border attacks.

Hamas said in a statement, "We hold the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the grave escalation and the flagrant aggression against the Gaza Strip and for the consequences that will bring onto the region,"

Although Israel blamed Hamas for Thursday's attack while Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was in Lebanon, security experts said Hezbollah, the powerful Shi'ite group that aids Israel's primary foe Iran in projecting its power in the region, must have given permission.

"It's not Hezbollah shooting, but it's hard to believe that Hezbollah didn't know about it," former Israeli military intelligence chief Tamir Hayman said on Twitter.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati of Lebanon issued a statement condemning any military operations from its territory that threatened stability, but Hezbollah did not respond immediately. Before the missiles were launched on Thursday, a senior Hezbollah official, Hashem Safieddine, warned that any violation of Al-Aqsa would "will inflame the entire region."

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, reported that it had been in contact with the parties and that both sides had stated that they did not desire war. However, UNIFIL warned that the situation posed an escalation risk and urged all parties to cease their actions.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military stated that the current Israeli operation has concluded. "Nobody wants an escalation right now," he told reporters. I believe that silence will be met with silence, at least in the coming hours.

US Condemns Rocket attacks

In the past, Palestinian factions in Lebanon, which have a presence in the refugee centres, have occasionally fired on Israel. Since the conflict with Hezbollah in 2006, the border region has been largely quiet.

The State Department of the United States condemned the launching of missiles from Lebanon and earlier attacks from Gaza and stated that Israel had the right to defend itself.

In the Al-Aqsa mosque, Israeli police were videotaped beating worshippers during raids meant to dislodge groups of young men who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque, according to officials.

The Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem's Old City is the third sacred site in Islam, where hundreds of thousands of people pray during Ramadan. Known to Jews as Temple Mount, the location of the two biblical Jewish temples, it is also the holiest site in Judaism, although non-Muslims are prohibited from praying there.

It has always been a source of tension. In 2021, clashes there triggered a 10-day conflict between Israel and Gaza.

The police actions have generated widespread outrage among Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and condemnation from across the Arab world.

Thursday night, police reported disturbances in several Arab Israeli communities, including Umm el-Fahem, Sakhnin, and Nazareth.

Plumes of Smoke

The worsening security situation adds another complication for Netanyahu's religious-nationalist government, which has confronted massive protests over its now-abandoned plans to limit the Supreme Court's authority.

Nonetheless, opposition leader Yair Lapid stated that the government could rely on cross-party support after the rocket attack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that Israelis supported the security forces.

"The debate within Israel will not prevent us from acting against them whenever and wherever it is essential. Without exception, we are all in agreement on this point, "Netanyahu said.

As a result of Thursday's rocket attack, television footage showed large columns of smoke rising above the northern Israeli border town of Shlomi, as well as mangled vehicles in the streets. Israel Airports Authority announced the closure of Haifa and Rosh Pina airports in the north.

Liat Berkovitch Kravitz told Israel's Channel 12 news, speaking from a fortified chamber in her Shlomi home, "I'm shaking, I'm in shock," I heard what sounded like an explosion inside the room.

According to the Israeli military, mortars were also launched across the border.

Following a year of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence, the UN Security Council convened a closed-door meeting to discuss the crisis amid fears that the conflict could escalate further.

Robert Wood, US Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters on his way into the meeting, "It's going to be important for everyone to do what they can to calm tensions,"

The assault on Thursday followed several rocket launches from Gaza towards Israel, most of which were intercepted. Israel retaliated to the rocket launches with airstrikes against Hamas-affiliated sites, which it considers accountable for any attacks launched from the blockaded coastal strip.

Mohammad Al-Braim, the spokesman for the Popular Resistance Committees of Palestine, lauded the rocket attacks from Lebanon, which he linked to the Al-Aqsa incidents, but did not claim responsibility.

"no Arab and no Muslim would keep silent while (Al-Aqsa) is being raided in such a savage and barbaric way without the enemy paying the price for its aggression," he said.

Publish : 2023-04-07 12:58:00

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