x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Israel retaliates after rocket strike from Lebanon

Israeli military fires artillery rounds into Lebanon in the direction the rockets came from, according to Unifil.

Israeli soldiers survey the damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit a gas tank in the town of Netua last night in the yesterday.
Israeli soldiers survey the damage after a rocket fired from Lebanon hit a gas tank in the town of Netua last night in the yesterday.

BEIRUT // The Israeli military fired into Lebanon yesterday to retaliate after at least one rocket was launched into Israel earlier in the day.

No injuries were reported and there were no claims of responsibility for the rocket attack from Lebanon.

The Lebanese army and Unifil - the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon, which monitor the ceasefire along the Lebanon-Israel boundary - launched an investigation.

Unifil radars detected at least one rocket fired into Israel from the Rumaysh area in southern Lebanon, the force said in a statement.

In response, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) fired artillery rounds in the direction the rockets came from, according to Unifil.

The incident has increased tension along the Blue Line - the unofficial border to which Israel withdrew after its two-decade occupation of south Lebanon.

Lebanon's President Michel Suleiman yesterday described the rocket attack from Lebanese soil as a violation of the agreement that ended the 2006 war.

Unifil Force Commander Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas called for restraint and said that additional troops had been deployed in the area.

"This is a serious incident ... and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area," he said in a statement.

"It is imperative to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this attack and we will spare no efforts to this end working in cooperation with the LAF", the Lebanese Armed Forces.

The Lebanese army found a rocket launcher believed to have been used in the attack near the village of Rumaysh, the state-run National News Agency reported yesterday.

The Israeli army confirmed that "a number" of rockets had hit the country's western Galilee region, describing the attack as "severe".

Before the attack, the most recent infraction occurred at the beginning of August when Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire across the Blue Line.

However, Timur Goksel, a former spokesman and adviser for Unifil, described yesterday's exchange as one of the most serious such attacks in the last few years.

"This is mostly because of what it could have caused," he said. "The attack seemed different. Whoever arranged it didn't mind [the possibility of] causing casualties, which could have escalated the situation dramatically."

Mr Goksel added that the attack was "not Hizbollah's style".

As tensions mount along the border, a potential political crisis is brewing in Beirut. Today, ministers from prime minister Nejib Mikati's government are due to meet to discuss funding the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL).

Lebanon owes more than $32 million (Dh117 million), or 49 per cent, of the budget for the court that is trying those accused of involvement in the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.

The STL had expected the money to be paid by the end of October, but the funds have yet to be transferred, as divisions have emerged in the March 8-dominated cabinet. Some, including ministers from Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement and Hizbollah, have stated their opposition to co-operating with, or providing money to, the tribunal.

However, other cabinet members, including those aligned with Mr Mikati, are said to support adhering to Lebanon's international obligations.

In June, four Hizbollah supporters were indicted for playing a role in the killing of Hariri and 21 others. The Shiite movement denies any involvement, but has pledged not to cooperate with the court. Mr Mikati indicated in recent days that he may resign if the cabinet decides against funding the tribunal, a move that would plunge Lebanon into political crisis.

Lebanon's information minister Walid Daouk reiterated yesterday that the Mikati government would resign if it fails to approve funding the court during the session scheduled for today, the National News Agency reported.

However, some commentators have speculated that the cabinet may postpone the decision in a bid to reach a consensus.

"It appears that they may try to prolong the discussion," said Imad Salamey, a professor of political science at the Lebanese American University.

"The government is too valued for [the governing] March 8-coalition to let it go for this. They know that the tribunal will continue regardless."

zconstantine@thenational.ae