Israel blamed the Islamist group Hamas for a volley of more than 30 rockets fired from Lebanon on Thursday, following escalating tensions after Israeli police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem this week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was set to hold a meeting of the security cabinet to decide a response to the attack, the biggest rocket attack from Lebanon since 2006, when Israel fought a war with the heavily armed Hezbollah movement.
“No one should test us, we will take all necessary measures to defend our country and people,” Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on Twitter.
The Israeli military said 34 rockets were launched from Lebanon, of which 25 were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel’s ambulance service said one man had sustained minor shrapnel injuries.
The incident came as Israel faced worldwide pressure following police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday that started on Wednesday evening.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility but an Israeli military spokesman placed the blame on Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip. “The party that fired the rockets from Lebanon is Hamas in Lebanon,” the spokesman said in a tweet.
Three non-Israeli security sources also said Palestinian factions in Lebanon, not Hezbollah, were believed to be responsible for the rocket fire although it was widely assumed that Hezbollah would have to have given its permission.
“It’s not Hezbollah shooting, but it’s hard to believe that Hezbollah didn’t know about it,” Tamir Hayman, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said on Twitter.
Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh was visiting Lebanon but there was no immediate comment from the group.
There was also no immediate comment from the Lebanese military or Hezbollah.
Palestinian factions in Lebanon, which have a presence in the refugee camps, have fired sporadically on Israel in the past. But the border has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Hezbollah, which has sway in southern Lebanon and commands an arsenal of advanced rockets.
The U.S. State Department expressed concern at the scenes in the Al-Aqsa mosque, where Israeli police were filmed beating worshippers during raids that officials said were to dislodge groups of young men who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque.
Washington also condemned the launch of rockets from Lebanon and earlier strikes from Gaza and said Israel had the right to defend itself.
Following the strikes on Thursday, TV footage showed large plumes of smoke rising above the northern Israeli border town of Shlomi with wrecked cars in the streets. Israel Airports Authority said it had closed the northern airports in Haifa and Rish Pina.
“I’m shaking, I’m in shock,” Liat Berkovitch Kravitz told Israel’s Channel 12 news, speaking from a fortified room in her house in Shlomi. “I heard a boom, it was as if it exploded inside the room.”
In a written statement, the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon (UNIFIL) described the situation as “extremely serious” and urged restraint. It said UNIFIL chief Aroldo Lazaro was in contact with authorities on both sides.
Amid fears that the confrontation could spiral further, following a year of escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence, the United Nations Security Council held a closed door meeting to discuss the crisis.
The U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Wood, described the situation in the Middle East as serious and said tensions should not be exacerbated.
“It’s going to be important for everyone to do what they can to calm tensions,” he told reporters on the way into the Security Council meeting.
The rocket fire adds a further complication for the religious-nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who before the violence this week at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque had faced mass protests against his proposals to rein in the Supreme Court.
Netanyahu last week delayed the bitterly contested judicial overhaul plans, which caused the biggest domestic political crisis seen in Israel in at least two decades.
Thursday’s rocket attack followed strikes from Gaza after the police operation at the Al-Aqsa mosque, a site which is also holy to Jews, who know it as the Temple Mount, the site of Judaism’s two ancient temples.
In response, Israel has hit targets in Gaza linked to Hamas, which it holds responsible for any attacks from the blockaded coastal strip.
Speaking from Gaza, Mohammad Al-Braim, spokesman for the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees, praised the rocket strikes from Lebanon, which he linked to the Al-Aqsa incidents, but did not claim responsibility.
He said “no Arab and no Muslim would keep silent while (Al-Aqsa) it is being raided in such savage and barbaric way without the enemy paying the price for its aggression.”