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Netanyahu says enemies will pay after rockets from Lebanon hit Israel

2023-04-06T20:18:52Z

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to hit back hard in response to a volley of rockets fired from Lebanon on Thursday, as tensions following Israeli police raids on Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem this week threatened to spiral out of control.

Netanyahu was due to meet ministers in his security cabinet following the biggest rocket attack from Lebanon since 2006, when Israel fought a war with the heavily armed Hezbollah movement.

In brief televised remarks before the meeting, he called for calm at Al-Aqsa, known to Jews as Temple Mount.

“As for the aggression aimed at us from other fronts – we will hit our enemies and they will pay a price for every act of aggression,” he said.

The Israeli military said 34 rockets were launched from Lebanon on Thursday, of which 25 were intercepted by its Iron Dome anti-missile system. Israel’s ambulance service said one man had sustained minor shrapnel injuries.

Israel has been facing worldwide pressure following police raids on successive nights at 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 for the rocket launches but Israeli officials 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,” a spokesman for the Israeli military said in a tweet.

However, security experts said Hezbollah, the powerful Shi’ite group which helps Israel’s main enemy Iran to project its power across the region, must 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. Earlier on Thursday, before the rockets were fired, senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said any infringement on Al-Aqsa “will inflame the entire region.”

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.

The U.S. State Department condemned the launch of rockets from Lebanon and earlier strikes from Gaza and said Israel had the right to defend itself.

But it also 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.

The Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is Islam’s third holiest site, where tens of thousands pray during Ramadan. Known to Jews as Jews as Temple Mount, the location of the two biblical Jewish temples, it is also Judaism’s most sacred site, although non-Muslims are not allowed to pray there.

It has long been a flashpoint for tensions. Clashes there in 2021 helped to trigger a 10-day war between Israel and Gaza.

Netanyahu said Israel had no interest in changing longstanding status quo at the site, which is overseen by a Jordanian-appointed Islamic foundation, but vowed decisive action against what he called extremists using violence.

The rocket fire adds a further complication for the religious-nationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has faced mass protests over its now suspended plans to curb the powers of the Supreme Court.

However, opposition leader Yair Lapid said the government could count on cross-party support and Netanyahu said Israelis stood behind the security forces.

“Our enemies will discover, again, that when we are tested, the citizens of Israel stand united,” he said.

In the aftermath of Thursday’s rocket attack, 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 Rosh 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.”

The Israeli military said mortar shells were also fired across the border.

In a statement, the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon (UNIFIL) described the situation as “extremely serious” and urged restraint. UN officials said the UN was in contact with the parties involved to try to de-escalate the situation.

Amid fears that the confrontation could spiral further, following a year of rising Israeli-Palestinian violence, the UN Security Council held a closed door meeting to discuss the crisis.

“It’s going to be important for everyone to do what they can to calm tensions,” U.S. Deputy Ambassador to the United Nations, Robert Wood, told reporters on the way into the meeting.

Thursday’s attack followed a number of rocket launches towards Israel from Gaza, most of which were intercepted. Israel responded to the launches with airstrikes on sites 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) is being raided in such a savage and barbaric way without the enemy paying the price for its aggression.”

Related Galleries:

Israeli policemen stand next to smoke from a fire following incoming rockets from Lebanon to Israel in Bezet, northern Israel, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Amun

Israeli security personnel check the remains of a rocket in Shlomi, northern Israel, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Amun

People react as siren sounds following incoming rockets from Lebanon to Israel near Shlomi, northern Israel, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Amun

A damaged building of a bank is seen following incoming rockets from Lebanon to Israel in Shlomi, northern Israel, April 6, 2023. REUTERS/Fadi Amun
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