Israel fires into Lebanon following rocket fire: army

Jerusalem (AFP) –


Israeli gunners fired three rounds of artillery into south Lebanon on Wednesday in retaliation for rocket attacks, the army said, at a time of rising tensions between the Jewish state and arch foe Iran.

"For the third time within two hours, the IDF (army) struck along the Lebanese border," the military said in a statement, adding that artillery forces "struck in Lebanese territory in response to the rockets fired at Israeli territory earlier today."

There were no immediate reports of casualties on the Lebanese side.

The army said three rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory, though one fell short of the border. The others struck near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, where air raid sirens sent residents into bomb shelters.

Medics of Magen David Adom, Israel's equivalent of the Red Cross, said four people were treated for "stress symptoms".

The United Nations peacekeeping force in the border region, UNIFIL, urged "maximum restraint" after the exchange of fire on the day marking a year since an explosion at Beirut's port devastated swathes of the Lebanese capital and killed more than 200 people.

Head of mission Major General Stefano Del Col urged the two sides "to cease fire and to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further escalation, especially on this solemn anniversary", UNIFIL said in a statement, adding that it would investigate.

The statement came shortly after Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said he had met with military leaders and "instructed the officials to deliver a firm message to UNIFIL following the attack".

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said he and Gantz had been "briefed" on developments and were overseeing Israel's response.

Gantz said the government would "not allow the social, political and economic crisis in Lebanon to turn into a security threat to Israel."

- 'No reason for panic' -

Kiryat Shmona mayor Avichai Stern told army radio sirens that went off "in the middle of the day with no warning".

Stern said firefighters were extinguishing a brushfire caused by rockets and that bomb shelters would be opened if needed.

Fields burn in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona following rocket fire from Lebanon
Fields burn in the northern Israeli town of Kiryat Shmona following rocket fire from Lebanon Jalaa MAREY AFP

"There is no reason for panic," Stern said. "We are ready for any scenario."

The exchange of fire comes days after Israel and other states accused Iran of carrying out an apparent drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker off Oman that killed two crew members, and hinted at possible retaliation.

Iran denied the allegation and warned it would "respond to any possible adventurism."

Orna Mizrahi, a former deputy national security adviser for foreign policy, told AFP this was the third instance of rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel in recent months, after skirmishes in May and July.

"We need to see where it's coming from and why," she said.

Mizrahi said the rockets were likely fired with the knowledge of Lebanon's powerful Shiite militant group Hezbollah, an Iran ally that fought a devastating 2006 war with Israel.

"I have no doubt Hezbollah is aware of it and is trying to create a routine of lack of calm on the northern Israeli border," she said.

She said Israel could retaliate with force because "there can't be a situation of getting used to" incoming fire from Lebanon.