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Israel launches airstrikes in Lebanon, Gaza following rocket attacks

In the most serious escalation since 2006, Israel has carried out airstrikes inside Lebanon following a barrage of rockets that was launched from southern Lebanon earlier in the day.
Smoke rises above buildings in Gaza City as Israel launches air strikes in Gaza

Israel carried out airstrikes in Lebanon and Gaza on Thursday night following a barrage of rockets that was fired from both into Israeli territory earlier in the day. The escalation between Israel and Lebanon is the most serious since 2006 and the July war that lasted 34 days. 

The airstrikes inside Lebanon have been ongoing since Friday 4:07 a.m. local time (Thursday 9:07 p.m. ET), the Israeli military said. Local news outlets reported that Israel hit the town of Alqulaila near Tyre in south Lebanon.

The Israeli military added that it struck targets linked to the Palestinian armed group Hamas inside Lebanon. Israel held Hamas responsible for launching a barrage of rockets into its territory from Lebanon on Thursday. Hamas chief Ismael Haniyeh arrived in Beirut on Thursday and was hosted by the Iran-backed group Hezbollah. 

A few hours before launching airstrikes in Lebanon, shortly after midnight local time, Israel struck targets in Gaza. A Palestinian security source told Agence France-Presse that the strikes had hit several Hamas training sites. The Israeli army said it hit two tunnels and two weapons production sites for Hamas in Gaza. The strikes were in response to rocket fire from Gaza, Israel's military said.

Sirens were activated in Israeli towns on the northern border with Gaza but no injuries have been reported. 

The escalation on Thursday started in Lebanon with a barrage of rockets flying into northern Israel, only one of which was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile defense system. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened an emergency meeting of the security cabinet for a situational assessment, the first such meeting since February.

Two Israelis were injured by shrapnel from the rockets and taken to hospitals. One more woman was injured while running to a shelter, and another woman is being treated for trauma. A few fires broke out as result of the rocket fire, but did not cause any injuries. 

Sirens began sounding across the region 20 minutes before the first rocket was launched, warning Israelis to go into shelters. The red alert sirens sounded in dozens of towns and villages close to the border including Matsuva, Shlomi, Hanita, Admit, Eylon, Hila, Rosh HaNikra and Arab el Aramashe. The IDF instructed local authorities to close nature reserves and beaches in the north of Israel. Northern Israeli airspace is closed to traffic. 

The rocket attack from Lebanon comes on the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover as thousands of families are vacationing in the north of the country. It is the first such salvo from Lebanon in almost two years.

Tension at Al-Aqsa

The missiles come amid growing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians over clashes Tuesday night at the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli security forces detained more than 300 people for barricading themselves at the site and amassing firecrackers and stones there, allegedly in order to strike Israeli visitors Wednesday morning. Scenes of Israeli police using batons and stun grenades inside Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, prompted wide condemnation across the Muslim world and from the European Union. After the crackdown, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired rockets at the south of Israel. The IDF retaliated Wednesday morning by targeting two Hamas weapons depots. No casualties were reported in the exchange.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has issued initial instructions to the IDF chief of staff on handling the situation.

So far, no organization has taken responsibility for the rocket fire, though Israel believes that it could not have taken place without Hezbollah's approval.

The IDF reported Thursday evening that it had identified 34 rocket launchings. Of them, 25 were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system and five fell in Israeli territory.

Israeli Military Radio reported that according to a preliminary security assessment, the rockets were launched by Hamas factions in Lebanon in reaction to Temple Mount events, most likely with Hezbollah knowledge or approval.

Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said Israel would “take all necessary measures to defend our country and people."

Wide condemnation

Asked about Israel’s possible retaliation, US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters Thursday that the United States condemns the launching of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza. “Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad,” Patel said, adding, “We recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression." 

The French Foreign Ministry condemned "the indiscriminate firing of rockets" Thursday evening. A statement issued by Paris read, "In this period of religious holidays, France calls on all parties for maximal restraint and to avoid any action likely to fuel the escalation of violence."

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) tweeted, "The IDF informed UNIFIL that it had activated its Iron Dome defense system in response. Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Aroldo Lázaro is in contact with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line. The current situation is extremely serious. UNIFIL urges restraint and to avoid further escalation.’’

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