Rockets Fired at Northern Israel, IDF Strikes Lebanon Targets in Response

One rocket explodes near Kiryat Shmona, though five apparently launched; Netanyahu: Hezbollah carrying out a double war crime under the cover of the Lebanese government.

At least five Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon at northern Israel on Sunday, one of which, a 122-mm rocket, exploded in an open area west of Kiryat Shmona. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

In response, the Israel Defense Forces fired dozens of shells at the source of the rocket fire. Israel also lodged a vehement complaint with UNIFIL, the United Nations peacekeeping force stationed along the border with Lebanon. Lebanese media quoted UNIFIL spokesman Andrea Tenenti as saying that the force was working with both sides to restore quiet, and that the Lebanese Army was cooperating to help locate the source of the rockets fired at Israel.

Later Sunday, UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra condemned the rocket fire. “This is a serious incident and a violation of Security Council Resolution 1701, which undermines the stability in the region,” he said.

This is the first time northern Israel has been hit by rocket fire since August, when four Katyushas were fired from Lebanon. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome system between Acre and Nahariya, while another fell in a populated area, damaging seven houses and three cars. The Israel Air Force responded to that rocket fire by attacking a target south of Beirut the following day.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting Sunday that Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for Hezbollah’s “double war crimes.”

“What’s happening in Lebanon is that Hezbollah is positioning thousands of missiles and rockets in apartments and committing two war crimes simultaneously,” Netanyahu said. “First, it threatens citizens with fire and second, it hides behind a civilian population. This is a double war crime carried out under the auspices of the Lebanese government.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Sunday morning that Israel would respond with force to any attack.

“We will not tolerate fire from Lebanese territory and will not allow any force to disrupt the lives of Israeli citizens,” said Ya’alon. “We hold the Lebanese government and the Lebanese army responsible for this morning’s fire and activities, and we will not allow events of the type that occurred this morning pass without a response. The IDF responded an hour ago with massive artillery fire toward the launch site, and will operate with much more force if necessary. I do not recommend anyone test our tolerance and our determination to maintain the security of Israel’s citizens.”

Giora Zaltz, head of the Upper Galilee Regional Council, said he expects the government to invest resources to maintain quiet along the northern border. At the request of Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka, the IDF activated the early-warning system that warns of rocket fire.

Residents of Kiryat Shmona reported hearing loud blasts in the early morning.

“At about 7 A.M., while I was driving to work with two of my friends, we heard a loud blast,” Kiryat Shmona resident Itzik Tyson told Haaretz. “I’ve been living here since 1974. I’ve seen, heard and experienced everything. My assumption was that it was a single shot. We continued on our way and when we arrived at work we heard the second explosion. Fortunately, because of the weather and the damp vegetation on the mountain the fire went out quickly and didn’t spread like it did in the summer of 2006, when the whole mountain burned.”

City resident Moshe Strull said the rocket fire was totally unexpected, “but everything in town is totally normal; people went to work and the kids went to school. The routine continues.”

The Kiryat Shmona municipality said that despite the incident, it had issued no special instructions to residents.

Two weeks ago Master Sgt. Shlomi Cohen, 31, of Afula was shot dead by a Lebanese soldier who, after fleeing, gave himself up to his commanders the following day. The Lebanese army attributed the incident to “the personal behavior of one of the soldiers.” Then, too, Israel filed a protest with UNIFIL.

Rocket-fire incidents have been infrequent on the Lebanon-Israel border since the countries agreed to a cease-fire that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War. In the most serious incident of recent years, Lebanese forces killed a high-ranking Israeli officer in 2010.

Lebanon is unusually jittery after a Friday car bombing in Beirut killed former finance minister Mohammed Chatah, who was buried yesterday. Chatah was a prominent critic of both Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime and of Hezbollah.

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