The Israeli army has said that it intercepted a barrage of rockets fired from Lebanon after Israeli police attacked Palestinians inside Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque for the second night in a row.
Warning sirens had sounded in the town of Shlomi and in Moshav Betzet in northern Israel, the army said. It was the first rockets were fired from Lebanon towards Israel since last April.
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The Israeli military later tweeted that 34 rockets had been fired from Lebanon, with 25 intercepted, and at least four landing in Israel.
The rocket attack was followed by a burst of Israeli artillery fire back across the border, said Lebanon’s National News Agency without reporting any casualties.
According to the Lebanese report, Israeli artillery fired “several shells from its positions on the border” towards the outskirts of two villages after the launch of “several Katyusha type rockets” at Israel.
The Israeli military, however, told AFP that it had not retaliated.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which came amid assults by Israeli forces on Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa this week that led to regional and global condemnation of Israel. But an Israeli military spokesman blamed the Palestinian group Hamas in Lebanon for incident.
Avichay Adraee also said that the Lebanese government was responsible for any rockets fired from inside its territory. “We are investigating the possibility of Iran’s involvement in the rocket fire from Lebanon,” Adraee added on Twitter.
Earlier, security sources had told the Reuters news agency that the rockets had been fired by Palestinian factions, and not the Lebanese group Hezbollah.
Hezbollah largely controls security in southern Lebanon, and has previously fought multiple wars with Israel. The last major conflict was in 2006.
Southern Lebanon is also home to several Palestinian refugee camps and armed factions.
The MDA ambulance service in Israel said three people were injured in the rocket fire, including a 19-year-old man with shrapnel injuries in mild condition and a 60-year-old woman injured while running to a nearby shelter. Several others were treated for shock.
The UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, known as UNIFIL, said in a statement that there had been “multiple rocket launches from southern Lebanon toward Israel” and the Israeli army had informed UNIFIL that it activated its Iron Dome defence system in response.
The head of the peacekeeping force, Major General Aroldo Lazaro, has been in contact with both Lebanese and Israeli authorities, the statement said. “The current situation is extremely serious. UNIFIL urges restraint and to avoid further escalation,” it added.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “receiving continuous updates about the security situation and will conduct an assessment with the heads of the security establishment,” his office said.
Washington condemned the attack and reiterated support for what it called Israel’s “legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression”.
“Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad,” US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel told reporters on Thursday.
On another border, Palestinian armed groups in the besieged Gaza Strip fired rockets into southern Israel for a second day in a row, according to the Israeli military.
No casualties were reported in Thursday’s early morning rocket fire from Gaza.
The rocket fire came after Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City for a second night on Thursday, preventing Palestinian worshippers from entering the mosque for dawn prayers.
In an previous Israeli raid, during the early hours of Wednesday, Israeli forces had attacked worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, injuring at least 12 Palestinians and detaining more than 400 others, on the eve of the 15th day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the first day of the Jewish holiday of Passover.
A few hours later, dozens of Israeli settlers entered the courtyard of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound under the protection of the Israeli police. In recent years, large groups of ultranationalist Jews have regularly visited the site with police escorts, something the Palestinians view as a provocation.
Following Wednesday’s raid, Israeli planes attacked multiple sites in Gaza, hitting targets at two sites west of the city and in the Nuseirat refugee camp in the centre of the coastal enclave. Israeli authorities said the attack came in response to four missiles fired earlier on Wednesday from Gaza, which were, in turn, in response to the police raid on Al-Aqsa.
A group of young men also headed towards the barrier separating Gaza from Israel to the east, where they set fire to rubber tyres and staged a sit-in to protest against the crackdown on worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.
Also on Wednesday, large crowds rallied across the Gaza Strip to demand protection for worshippers at the site. The rallies, which were called for by Hamas – the group that governs the coastal enclave – and other Palestinian factions, took place after Ramadan night prayers.
Protesters raised Palestinian flags and pictures of Al-Aqsa Mosque as they chanted slogans in support of the Mourabitoun – a group of Palestinian worshippers who characterise themselves as Al-Aqsa’s defenders.
Two Palestinian factions, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, said in a statement that any “attempts [by Israel] to change the status quo in Al-Aqsa Mosque, or to Judaise the site, would ignite an unprecedented war on all fronts, especially from the Gaza Strip.”
On Thursday, the US State Department said voiced concern about the violence in Jerusalem and called for “restraint” and calm.
“It is absolutely vital that the sanctity of holy sites be preserved,” Patel said. “We emphasise the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem, and any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo to us is unacceptable.”
The “historic status quo” is a decades-old understanding that governs access to the holy sites in Jerusalem. It recognises Jordan as the custodian of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, known as al-Haram al-Sharif to Muslims, and bans non-Muslim prayers at the site.