x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lebanese fire rockets at Israel

A rare rocket barrage from Lebanon has deepened Israeli fears that Al Qaeda affiliates are opening a new front for confrontation.

Israeli residents inspect the damage caused by a rocket fired from Lebanon into the Gesher Haziv kibbutz in northern Israel.
Israeli residents inspect the damage caused by a rocket fired from Lebanon into the Gesher Haziv kibbutz in northern Israel.

JERUSALEM // A rare rocket barrage from Lebanon yesterday deepened Israeli concern that Al Qaeda affiliates were opening a new front for confrontation with Israel.

The Israeli military said several rockets were fired from southern Lebanon, but one was intercepted by an anti-missile shield and two or three others fell outside Israeli territory. However, Israeli security sources said at least five rockets hit Israel.

Israel's Magen David Adom ambulance service said there were no casualties.

Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shiite group that fought a war against Israel in 2006. But Israel blamed the attack on a "global jihadi organisation", its term for Al Qaeda and its Islamist militant offshoots.

In Syria, Sunni militants are battling alongside rebels trying to remove the president, Bashar Al Assad, who is supported by Hizbollah fighters.

A strike on Israel by extremists would be a show of force just a day after opposition activists in Syria accused Assad's loyalists of using chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people in a rebel-held Damascus suburb. The Syrian army denied the allegations.

Israel believes militant groups in Egypt's lawless Sinai along Israel's southern border have been behind sporadic rocket attacks on its Red Sea resort of Eilat, where an Iron Dome battery shot down a rocket on August 13. On Monday, Islamist militants killed 25 Egyptian policemen in Sinai.

Israeli leaders have said they feared groups linked with Al Qaeda in Syria could eventually turn their sights on Israel and the occupied Golan Heights, or that Hizbollah might do so to deflect criticism from much of the Sunni world for its potent support for Assad's regime.

Yesterday's rocket strike "is directly connected to all of the events taking place in the Middle East", said Brig Gen Yoav Mordechai, the Israeli military's chief spokesman.

"Global jihad is looking for areas in which there is anarchy and chaos. We see them in Sinai, we find them in the Golan Heights, we find them in Lebanon, too," he said. "They exploit opportunities ... and sometimes they try to attack Israeli citizens."

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that "anyone who tries to attack us should know that we will hurt them".

Israel's military, however, signalled it would not retaliate for now for the launchings, which triggered warning sirens and sent residents in the north scrambling for shelter.

"The military is regarding this as a one-time incident. There is no change in regulations or orders," Brig Gen Mordechai was quoted as saying by Channel 2 television, looking to play down the attack, the first on northern Israel since May.

Israeli television showed photos of an Iron Dome interceptor blowing up an incoming rocket. The military said it was destroyed between the Israeli coastal towns of Acre and Nahariya.