Text size

Army engineers in south Lebanon dismantled Friday two rockets mounted for firing at Israel, a senior military official said of a move that suggested Lebanon was exerting greater control over its border area.

The army was investigating who owned the rockets and had searched the area for more, the official told The Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

"The two rockets were found in an orchard in the border town of Naqoura," the official said.

The incident came three days after Lebanese-based guerrillas fired rockets into northern Israel, causing damage to the town of Kiryat Shmona but no casualties.

In a rare rebuke, Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora condemned the rocket attack and said his government would catch the perpetrators to make sure it did not happen again.

Although it was not the first time that Lebanese soldiers had seized rockets in southern Lebanon, Friday's dismantling suggested the Army were being more vigilant following Saniora's remarks.

Israel blamed Wednesday's attack on a militant pro-Syrian Palestinian group and retaliated with airstrikes early Wednesday against the group's base outside Beirut - Israel's deepest strike into Lebanon in 18 months.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command denied firing the rockets, as did other Palestinian factions and Lebanon's militant Hezbollah guerrilla group.

The Iraqi-based terror group, Al Qaida in Iraq, claimed Thursday that it had fired the rockets. The claim was made in a posting on an Islamic Internet forum that could not be independently verified.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fuad Saniora dismissed the al-Qaida responsibility claim as a "fabrication" and a joke and said it was clear the claim was made by "amateurs."

Also Friday, two Israeli warplanes flew over Beirut and the targeted PFLP-GC base at Naameh, 7 kilometers south of the Lebanese capital, the official National News Agency reported. The jets also flew over a PFLP-GC base in Sultan Yacoub, a village about 5 kilometers from the Syrian border, security officials said.

Another two Israeli warplanes flew presumed reconnaissance flights over the southern Lebanese cities of Tyre and Sidon, drawing anti-aircraft fire from Lebanese army guns, the army said in a statement.

Since Israel withdrew its military forces from southern Lebanon in 2000, the Lebanese government has refused to deploy significant numbers of security forces in the south, saying it would not serve as the protector of Israel's northern border.

The absence of government forces has meant that the south Lebanon border zone is effectively controlled by the Hezbollah movement, which seeks Israel's destruction.