Israel’s military struck targets in Lebanon and Gaza early Friday in retaliation for rocket attacks claimed on the Islamist organization Hamas, as tensions escalated following police raids this week on the Al-Aqsa shrine in Jerusalem.
Israel claimed its planes attacked 10 targets in Gaza, including tunnels and weapons manufacture and development centers of Hamas, which governs the blockaded southern coastal enclave.
At around 4.00 a.m., the military said it had also struck three Hamas infrastructure targets in southern Lebanon, where residents around the area of the Rashidiyeh refugee camp near the southern city of Tyre reported three loud blasts.
“We strongly condemn the blatant Zionist aggression against Lebanon in the vicinity of Tyre at dawn today,” Hamas said.
Two Lebanese security sources said the strike hit a small structure on farmland near the area from which the rockets had been launched earlier.
The strike appeared to have left a large crater in farmland in the south, according to Reuters witnesses.
A member of Lebanon’s Civil Defense at the scene on Friday morning said there were no casualties.
The strikes came in response to rocket attacks from Lebanon towards northern Israeli areas, which Israeli officials blamed on Hamas. The military said 34 rockets were launched from Lebanon, of which 25 were intercepted by air defense systems. It was the biggest such attack since 2006, when Israel fought a war with the heavily armed Hezbollah movement.
“Israel’s response, tonight and later, will exact a significant price from our enemies,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a security cabinet meeting.
As the Israeli jets struck in Gaza, salvoes of rockets were fired in response and sirens sounded in Israeli towns and cities in bordering areas. However, there were no reports of serious casualties and only one rocket hit a target, damaging a house in the southern town of Sderot.
The cross-border strikes came amid an escalating confrontation over Israeli police raids at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday.
“We hold the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the grave escalation and the flagrant aggression against the Gaza Strip and for the consequences that will bring onto the region,” Hamas said in a statement.
Although Israel blamed Hamas for Thursday’s attack, which took place as Hamas head Ismail Haniyeh was visiting Lebanon, security experts said Hezbollah, the powerful Shi’ite group which helps Israel’s main enemy Iran project its power across the region, must have given its permission.
“It’s not Hezbollah shooting, but it’s hard to believe that Hezbollah didn’t know about it,” Tamir Hayman, a former head of Israeli military intelligence, said on Twitter.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Najib Mikati issued a statement condemning any military operations from its territory that threatened stability but there was no immediate comment from Hezbollah. Earlier on Thursday, before the rockets were fired, senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said any infringement on Al-Aqsa “will inflame the entire region”.
UNIFIL, the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, said it had been in contact with the parties and said both sides had said they did not seek war but it said the situation risked escalation and urged all parties to halt their actions.
An Israeli military spokesman said the Israeli operation was over for the moment. “Nobody wants an escalation right now,” he told reporters. “Quiet will be answered with quiet, at this stage I think, at least in the coming hours.”