Israeli jets launch air raids on southern Lebanon

Israeli fighter jets have launched air raids on neighbouring Lebanon following a second day of rocket fire from across the border.

“Earlier today [Thursday], rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory,” the Israeli air force tweeted.

“In response … fighter jets struck the launch sites and infrastructure used for terror in Lebanon from which the rockets were launched.

“An additional target in the area from which rockets have been launched in the past was struck as well.”

Speaking to Israel’s YNet TV, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “This was an attack meant to send a message … Clearly we could do much more, and we hope we won’t arrive at that.”

Gantz said he believed a Palestinian faction had launched the rockets. Small Palestinian factions in Lebanon have fired sporadically on Israel in the past.

Israeli aircraft routinely target Palestinian armed groups in Gaza and suspected Hezbollah or Iranian targets in Syria but it was the first time since 2014 that they had hit targets in Lebanon, the air force confirmed. Previous acknowledged military actions mostly involved artillery shelling.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun said Israel’s air strikes were the first targeting Lebanese villages since 2006 and showed an escalation in its “aggressive intent” towards his country.

Aoun also said in a tweet the strikes were a direct threat to the security and stability of southern Lebanon and violated UN Security Council resolutions.

Israel fought a 2006 war against Iran-backed Hezbollah, which is the dominant force in southern Lebanon. The border has been mostly quiet since then.

Lebanon’s Al-Manar television, run by Hezbollah, said Israeli aircraft carried out two air raids at approximately 12:40am (21:45 GMT) outside the town of Mahmoudiya, some 11km (seven miles) from the border.

Lebanon’s official National News Agency also reported the attacks but provided few details.

It was the second straight day that Israel had reported rocket fire from Lebanon.

Three rockets were fired on Wednesday, two of which reached Israel, striking near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, where four people were treated for “stress symptoms”.

The Israeli army said it retaliated by carrying out three rounds of artillery shelling. The Lebanese army said 92 artillery shells fired by Israel landed in southern Lebanon following the Wednesday rocket fire.

It triggered multiple brush fires in the tinder-dry conditions but there were no reports of casualties.

It was not immediately clear who had fired the rockets, and the Lebanese army said it was investigating.

The escalation came as thousands of grief-stricken Lebanese marked the first anniversary of a devastating explosion in Beirut port that killed more than 200 people and scarred the nation’s psyche.

The then-government resigned in the face of a wave of popular anger but a year later, despite a worsening economic meltdown, no replacement administration has been formed.

Israel has warned repeatedly that it will not allow the power vacuum in Beirut to undermine security on its northern border.

The military said it “views the state of Lebanon as responsible for all actions originating in its territory, and warns against further attempts to harm Israeli civilians and Israel’s sovereignty”.

UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force that has been deployed in Lebanon since 1978 and has patrolled the border since the 2006 war, called for restraint from all sides.

“UNIFIL’s head of mission and force commander, Major General Stefano Del Col, was in immediate contact with the parties,” the force said in a statement on Wednesday.

“He urged them to cease fire and to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation, especially on this solemn anniversary.

“It is imperative to restore stability immediately so UNIFIL can begin its investigation.”

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