BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Two rockets were fired from southern Lebanon toward Israel on Thursday, prompting cross-border strikes by the Israeli military, sources on both sides said.
The incident came amid heightened Israeli-Arab tensions after Israel this week conducted one of its largest military incursions in decades in the occupied West Bank, targeting the Jenin camp, a Palestinian militant stronghold.
Three security sources in Lebanon said two rockets were fired toward Israel, one of them landing in Lebanese territory and the second near a disputed area at the border.
After initially saying it had no indications of any unusual incidents on its side of the border, the Israeli military said a projectile, which it later identified as an anti-tank missile, had exploded there. There was no word of any damage.
“In response, the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) is currently striking the area from which the launch was carried out in Lebanese territory,” a military statement said.
It added that Israeli communities near the border had not been issued with any special instructions. During major flare-ups, Israel usually orders civilians within range to take cover.
PLUMES OF SMOKE
Reuters witnesses saw plumes of white smoke rising from the hilly south. One resident of Wazzani, the village in southern Lebanon where one of the rockets fell, said artillery fire had hit there from the direction of Israel.
Lebanon’s National News Agency reported some 15 shells fired from Israel had landed in Lebanon.
There was no claim of responsibility for the original reported rocket fire from Lebanon. Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati said he was following up on the issue with the commander of Lebanon’s army.
The sources in Lebanon said the second rocket had landed near the disputed village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israel-Lebanon border but whose residents profess allegiance to Syria.
Hezbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Lebanese group that controls southern Lebanon and has fought several wars with Israel, expressed support for the Palestinian cause during this week’s Israeli operation in the West Bank city of Jenin.
Hezbollah did not comment on the reports of rocket fire.
In a separate statement, the armed group condemned what it called “dangerous measures” taken by Israeli forces in the northern part of Ghajar, which Lebanon considers to be its territory.
Hezbollah accused Israel of erecting a wire fence and building a cement wall. Lebanon’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said it was concerned by the moves, saying they were creating a “new reality on the ground”. There was no immediate response from Israel’s military to the Hezbollah accusation.
The United Nations’ peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon urged all sides to show restraint and avoid an escalation after the reported exchange of fire on Thursday given the area had “already experienced tensions earlier this week.”
Israel blamed the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas for firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon in April during another flare-up in Israeli-Palestinian violence. That prompted Israel to hit sites in Lebanon.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Aziz Taher and Maya Gebeily in Lebanon and Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Writing by Ahmed Elimam and Maya Gebeily; Editing by Tom Perry, Gareth Jones and Ros Russell)