Israel launches strikes in Lebanon and Gaza after barrage of rockets fired across border


Smoke and fire rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City early Friday.Israel struck targets belonging to the Palestinian militant group Hamas in southern Lebanon and launched a series of retaliatory airstrikes in Gaza early Friday, according to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The Al-Manar news outlet, backed by Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, reported that three Israeli strikes had hit an open area in the Tyre region, and that the Israeli jets appear to have left Lebanese airspace.

The launches came hours after dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israeli territory, a barrage the Israeli military blamed on Palestinian militants.

“The IDF will not allow the Hamas terrorist organization to operate from within Lebanon and holds the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory,” the IDF said in a statement.

Hamas responded in a statement Friday, condemning the strikes and expressing “solidarity with the Lebanese people.” In a separate statement, it also condemned Israel’s strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Earlier, a CNN journalist in Gaza City heard the sounds of planes and explosions, minutes after the IDF announced it was targeting Gaza. The Israeli strikes hit multiple areas, and several rockets were fired from Gaza toward Israel in response.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said a children’s hospital in Gaza City was hit and damaged by the Israeli strikes, distressing the young patients inside. “This is not the first time that health facilities have been targeted, and it is unacceptable,” the ministry added in a statement.

The IDF said in a series of statements that its fighter jets struck several Hamas weapons manufacturing sites, an underground weapons complex, and “terror” tunnels in Beit Hanoun and Khan Yunis. An IDF drone also struck a heavy machine gun in northern Gaza that was used to fire rounds toward IDF jets and Israeli territory, one statement said.

The IDF said the strikes were “a response to the security violations of Hamas during the last few days.”

Hours before the IDF strikes in Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Israel would “hit our enemies and they will pay a price for every act of aggression.”

Smoke and fire rises from an explosion caused by an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City early Friday.

The exchange of fire comes as anger boils across the region over Israeli police raids at the al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, in Jerusalem on Wednesday, which drew widespread condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world and sparked retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.

Then on Thursday, the IDF said some 34 rockets were launched into Israel from Lebanon in the largest such attack since a 2006 war between the two countries left around 1,200 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis dead.

Videos posted on social media showed rockets from Lebanon streaking through the skies over northern Israel, and the sounds of explosions in the distance. Israel closed its northern airspace in the wake of the barrage. An Israeli military spokesman said they believed Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group was behind the attack, not Hezbollah.

The Lebanese army confirmed a number of a rockets were launched from the country’s south, but did not say who had fired them. It said on Twitter that a unit had found “missile launchers and a number of rockets intended for launch” in the vicinity of the Lebanese towns of Zibqin and Qlaileh, and was “currently working to dismantle them.”

Hezbollah, which dominates Lebanon’s southern border region militarily and politically, neither denied nor claimed responsibility for the rocket fire in Israel. But the powerful Iran-backed armed group appeared to hint at it in a statement Thursday, warning that “hundreds of millions of Muslims” were prepared to “shed blood” for al-Aqsa. In recent months, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said that violations at the mosque compound in Jerusalem’s old city would cause “all hell to break loose in the region.”

Tensions are high after Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on two separate occasions Wednesday, as Palestinian worshipers offered prayers during the holy month of Ramadan. Footage from inside the mosque showed Israeli officers beating people with their batons and rifle-butts, then arresting hundreds of Palestinians. Israeli police said they entered the mosque after “hundreds of rioters” tried to barricade themselves inside.

IDF international spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht linked the rocket fire to the two Israeli incursions into the al-Aqsa mosque, saying they had created “very negative energies.”

“The context of the story starts two days ago on Temple Mount with these very, very harsh pictures coming out of the prayer at night,” Hecht said, using the Jewish name for the Jerusalem holy site, which is known to Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary.

The foreign minister for Jordan, the custodian of the al-Aqsa mosque and other Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, said “we are at a very dangerous moment.”

“What we see unfolding on the Lebanese border is obviously a consequence, a reaction to what we saw happening in al-Aqsa [mosque],” Ayman Safadi told CNN on Thursday. .

Lebanon and Israel are considered enemy states, but a truce between them has largely held since the 2006 war. On Friday, the UN’s peacekeeping force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said its head of mission and force commander was speaking with authorities on both sides, and that both Israel and Lebanon have said “they do not want a war.”

There have been several small-scale rocket attacks from Lebanon in recent years that have prompted retaliatory strikes from Israel. Few casualties were reported in those incidents, with the largest death toll in an exchange of fire in 2015 that left two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper dead. Palestinian factions in Lebanon were believed to be behind those rocket attacks.

The 2006 conflict was the biggest flare-up between Lebanon and Israel since 1982. Around 1,200 Lebanese people and 165 Israelis died in an exchange of fire that involved a nationwide Israeli aerial assault, and a naval and aerial blockade. Hezbollah fired many rounds of rockets reaching deep into Israeli territory during the conflict.

Escalation is ‘extremely serious’

The Israeli military pinned the blame for the rockets from Lebanon on either Hamas or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with Hecht saying the IDF assumed that “Hezbollah knew about it, and Lebanon also has responsibility.”

But he emphasized several times that the IDF viewed the attack as having come from a Palestinian source, and that it did not represent a widening of the conflict to actors outside of the direct Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raising hopes that tensions could be ratcheted down after the incident.

The Lebanese Foreign Ministry also said it was ready to cooperate with the United Nations and take steps to “restore calm and stability” in the south, while calling on “the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop escalation,” the state-owned National News Agency reported.

The IDF has been concerned for some time about an escalation on the Lebanese border, and hosted a high-level seminar in the spring of 2022 to brief journalists and policy makers about it.

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, said Thursday’s escalation of violence between Lebanon and Israel was “extremely serious.”

UNIFIL also said it has directed its personnel stationed at the border between the two countries to move to air raid shelters, as a “common practice.”

The White House said it was “extremely concerned by the continuing violence and we urge all sides to avoid further escalation.”

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