The Lebanese government criticised a rocket attack from south Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, saying it was a violation of a UN Security Council resolution that halted a 2006 war between Hizbollah and the Jewish state.
”Prime Minister [Fouad] Siniora regards what happened in the south as a violation of the international resolution 1701 and something he does not accept and rejects,” said a statement from his office.
”We have asked the competent authorities in cooperation with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon to investigate.”
At least three rockets fired from Lebanon hit northern Israel on Thursday morning, raising fears about a second front opening up with Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia group, at a time when Israeli troops are engaged in a massive offensive against Hamas fighters in the Gaza Strip.
It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets, although suspicion fell on Palestinian groups in Lebanon, rather than on Hizbollah, the armed Shia group which supports Hamas’s struggle against Israel.
The rockets landed in the Israeli resort town of Nahariya and three other places, wounding four people. Israel fired artillery back Lebanon, in what a military spokesman called ”a pinpoint response at the source of fire”.
Residents on the Lebanese side of the border told the Financial Times that the rockets had been launched from north Naqoura, an area near the border, which is patrolled by United Nations peacekeepers. Late last month, the Lebanese army found and dismantled eight Katyusha rockets near Naqoura, all pointed towards Israel.
The Israeli rockets fired in retaliation on Thursday landed in the same area, the residents said.
The commander of UN peacekeepers in Lebanon called for ”maximum restraint” and both the UN and the Lebanese army deployed additional troops to the area.
An Israeli cabinet minister blamed Palestinians in Lebanon. ”I think these are isolated incidents,” Rafi Eitan said on Israel’s Channel 2. ”We expected this.”
There are about 400,000 Palestinians living in exile in Lebanon, most living in dire conditions in refugee camps. In 2007 Palestinian factions fired two rockets that hit near the Israeli town of Kiryat Shimona.
Hizbollah declined to comment, with a spokeswoman saying ”we don’t have any information yet”, but government officials said that the group, a junior partner in Lebanon’s national unity government, had assured it that it was not involved.
Hizbollah has a strong network in southern Lebanon and engaged in a devastating 34-day war with Israel in 2006, during which it fired some 4,000 rockets into Israel. Both Hizbollah and Hamas are backed by Iran and Syria.
Analysts agreed that Hizbollah was unlikely to seek to enter the conflict, which would bring further air strikes on Lebanon and would weaken the party’s strong position as it heads into parliamentary elections in May.
”I think this is renegade Palestinian factions are trying as much as possible to open another front to test the Israelis and their reaction, and also to test the reaction of the Lebanese state,” said Oussama Safa, head of the Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies. ”None of this is part of a plan to reignite tensions between Lebanon and Israel.”
However, at a huge rally on Wednesday, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the Hizbollah chief, warned of ”all possibilities” against Israel in reaction to the Gaza conflict.
”The 2006 war and the war in Gaza now are showing that by resistance, Israel can be defeated,” Mr Nasrallah told thousands of Lebanese Shia gathered to mark Ashura, one of the most important days in the Shia calendar. ”We don’t need a different strategy, like negotiation.
By people’s will we can defeat Israel,” he said, to frenzied cheering.