December 29, 2013 10:06 am

Israel returns fire after rocket from Lebanon lands near town

A Lebanese army personnel inspects the remains of a shell that was launched from Lebanon to Israel, which according to activists landed 500m from the Lebanese-Israeli border, in the southern Lebanese village of Sarada©Reuters

A rocket fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Sunday morning and the Israeli military returned fire, in the second such clash in the border region in less than a month.

The Israel Defence Forces said five rockets were fired from inside Lebanon and that one of them landed inside Israel. Israel’s military said the rocket hit west of the northern town of Kiryat Shmona, and that it responded twice with artillery fire toward the source of the launch.

Israel said it had filed an official complaint about the attack to Unifil, the UN force in southern Lebanon.

Speaking at the beginning of his weekly cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel held the Lebanese government responsible for the attack.

While he did not say who Israel thought had fired the rockets, he accused Hizbollah of “a double war crime” in its stockpiling of arms in civilian areas and said that its ally Iran was behind the arming of the group.

“What is happening in Lebanon is that Hizbollah is stationing thousands of missiles and rockets in apartments, in the heart of the civilian population, and is thus perpetrating two war crimes simultaneously,” Mr Netanyahu said. “It is organising the firing at civilians, just as it did today, and it is hiding behind civilians as human shields.”

Mr Netanyahu said that Israel, which has also come under fire from militants in the Gaza Strip recently, would not tolerate a ‘drizzle’ of attacks, and would ‘respond strongly’ or take preventive action if need be. Israel’s military said the rockets were fired from the vicinity of al-Khiam, a town in Hizbollah’s south Lebanon stronghold.

The country’s northern border with Lebanon has been mostly quiet since Israel’s war in 2006 with Hizbollah, the militant group that Israel regards as one of its most formidable foes in the region.

However, Lebanese soldiers shot dead an Israeli soldier on December 16, and Israel’s army fired back in the first fatal clash on the border since 2010.

Sunday’s attack caused no injuries in Israel but was strongly condemned by the IDF.

“Launching rockets from Lebanon into Israel jeopardises thousands of civilian lives in the north, a reality no sovereign state would accept,” Lt Col Peter Lerner, a spokesman for the Israel Defence Forces, said in a statement. “The IDF maintains the right to self defence and will operate accordingly.”

Aviv Oreg, a former IDF military intelligence official, told a conference call organised by the Israel Project, a pro-government advocacy group, that it was “very hard to pinpoint” who was behind Sunday’s attack.

However, he said the rockets might have been fired by global jihad groups wishing to drag Israel into retaliating against Hizbollah. The Lebanon-based militant group and jihadi groups are rivals in the civil war against Bashar al-Assad’s government in neighbouring Syria

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