Sunday, December 29, 2013

Rocket from Lebanon strikes northern Israel, IDF returns fire

One of five Katyusha rockets fired toward northern Israel explodes near Kiryat Shmona • IDF responds with shell fire • PM Benjamin Netanyahu: Hezbollah is committing a double war crime, with the protection of the Lebanese government and military. 

An Israeli police explosives expert carries the remains of a rocket that hit near the northern town of Kiryat Shmona on Sunday
Photo credit: Reuters
Five Katyusha rockets were fired from Lebanon toward northern Israel on Sunday morning. According to the Israel Defense Forces, only one rocket landed within Israeli territory, exploding west of the northern city of Kiryat Shmona. No injuries or damage were reported. 

According to Army Radio, the IDF responded by firing dozens of shells at the source of the rocket fire. Lebanon's state news agency reported that Israeli tanks shelled a Lebanese border area after rockets hit Israel.

Lebanese reports said more than 100 Israeli shells were directed at the area where the rockets were fired from.

Increased Israeli Air Force activity in the skies over southern Lebanon was also reported.

At this time, no terror group has claimed responsibility for the rocket fire. However, Lebanese media outlets reported that Palestinian groups based in southern Lebanon were likely responsible.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar television station quoted Hezbollah officials as saying "anonymous individuals acting on their own" were likely behind the rocket fire.

Lebanese media reported that two of the rockets launched toward Israel fell near the southern Lebanese village of Sarda. According to the reports, the Lebanese military closed off the area.

UNIFIL was also reportedly in contact with both the IDF and Lebanese military, in an effort to prevent an escalation of the situation.
An Israeli military official said that while all signs indicated that the rocket fire was an isolated incident, the overall increase in border incidents over the past few weeks was cause for concern.

At the start of Sunday's cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, "The IDF responded powerfully and quickly to the fire from Lebanon today. This is our policy in Lebanon, like it is in Gaza. We won't permit a trickle [of rockets] and, if needed, will act [to thwart rocket fire] beforehand."

"We view the Lebanese government as responsible for rocket fire conducted from within its territory. What is happening in Lebanon is that the Hezbollah organization is putting thousands of missiles and rockets in homes, in the heart of the civilian population, meaning it is committing two war crimes at the same time. It is organizing fire at civilians, like it tried to do today, and it is hiding behind civilians, [using them as] a human shield."

"This double war crime is done with the protection of the Lebanese government and military, who don't lift a finger to prevent the arming [of Hezbollah] or these crimes."

"We view the Lebanese government as responsible for these developments. We also know, of course, that Iran is behind the arming of Hezbollah." 

Sunday's incident took place around 7 a.m. when Kiryat Shmona residents reported hearing a large explosion on the outskirts of the city. Security forces scrambled to the area and found the remnants of a Katyusha rocket. A small fire which broke out at the site where the rocket exploded was extinguished by local firefighters. 

"We will not tolerate fire from Lebanese territory and we will not permit any interruption to the daily routine of Israelis," Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said. "We view the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military as responsible for the shooting this morning and for whatever happens in their territory. We will not permit further incidents like the one that happened this morning."
According to Ya'alon, "The IDF responded with massive shelling of the area from where the rockets were launched, and if need be, it will act with greater force [in the future]. I wouldn't recommend that anyone test our patience and determination to protect the security of the citizens of Israel."

Kiryat Shmona residents said the air-raid siren system failed to warn of the incoming rocket fire.

Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka called for an emergency city council meeting, saying he and other city officials were in close contact with the IDF, and that while he had given the order to open all of the public shelters in the city, the move was only a precautionary one. The incident, he said, had not disrupted routine life in Kiryat Shmona.

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