Jerusalem — Israel carried out rare airstrikes in Lebanon on Friday, sparking a sharp escalation that sparked fears of a wider conflict after militants fired dozens of rockets from Lebanon into Israeli territory. Israel also continued its bombing of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli strikes on southern Lebanon – which analysts described as the worst border violence since Israel’s 2006 war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah – threatened to push the confrontation into a dangerous new phase after violence at one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites.
Although the Israeli military was quick to stress that its warplanes had only struck areas belonging to Palestinian armed groups, the barrage risks Israel’s bitter enemy Hezbollah, which controls much of southern Lebanon and has in the past portrayed itself as a defender of Palestinians and Palestinians. the disputed city of Jerusalem. Israel’s military said it would hold Lebanon responsible for attacks from its territory.
According to an Associated Press photographer, Israeli rockets struck an open field near the Rashidiyeh Palestinian refugee camp near the coastal city of Tyre. Other strikes hit a small bridge and a transformer in the nearby town of Maaliya, as well as a flock of sheep in the town of Qalili, on the outskirts of the Palestinian camp. Several sheep were killed and residents of the town, including Syrian refugees, reported minor injuries.
“I was sleeping and suddenly I felt nothing but the impact,” said Qalili resident Majid Abdelsattar. He said the strikes damaged his parents’ house and the family’s citrus orchard. The Lebanese army said another rocket launcher had been found on Friday, after several had been dismantled the previous day.
Israel’s military said its strikes mostly hit Hamas militant infrastructure in Lebanon and Gaza.
The Israeli airstrikes came in response to an unusually heavy barrage of rockets from Lebanon after Israeli police raids at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque turned into unrest and sparked outrage across the Arab world. The holy site, a hotbed of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, is located on a hilltop sacred to both Muslims and Jews. In 2021, the escalation triggered by the clashes in the Al-Aqsa compound escalated into an 11-day war between Israel and the rulers of Hamas in Gaza.
On Friday, acts of violence broke out again in the building of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Before dawn prayers on Friday, chaos erupted at one of the entrances to the promenade, when Israeli police wielding batons descended on a crowd of Palestinian worshipers chanting slogans praising Hamas as they tried to force their way into the venue. According to the videos, an hour later, people leaving prayer staged a huge protest in the limestone courtyard, with Palestinians raising their fists shouting Hamas rocket fire and Israeli police entering the building.
Police did not comment on the earlier beatings, but said security forces entered the holy building after prayers in response to “masked suspects” who threw stones at officers at one of the gates.
Scenes of Israeli police beating and dispersing Palestinians – and entering the square itself an hour later – could further fuel tensions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a time of heightened religious fervor.
The Israeli military says it is clear that both sides want to avoid a full conflict. “There will be silence for silence,” Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Richard Hecht told reporters early Friday. But he added: “All eyes are now on Jerusalem.”
The Israeli military said on Friday that Palestinian militants in Gaza had so far fired 44 rockets from Gaza, of which only 23 reached Israel. The others either did not take off, fell into the Mediterranean or were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, the army said. Most of the rockets hit open areas in southern Israel, but one landed in the town of Sderot and damaged a house. There were no Israeli victims.
Israel’s military said it carried out more airstrikes in Gaza on Friday, hitting ten targets it described as tunnel infrastructure and weapons production and development sites, mostly belonging to the Hamas militant group. There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza, but the Palestinian Health Ministry said one of the strikes caused some damage to a children’s hospital in Gaza.
“This is not the first time medical facilities have been targeted and this is unacceptable,” the ministry said of the damage caused to Al Dorra Children’s Hospital.
Hecht added that the military is investigating reports of damage to the hospital.
The current round of violence began on Wednesday after Israeli police raided the Al-Aqsa Mosque twice. This led to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on Thursday and, as a major escalation, to the Lebanese barrage.
“Israel’s response tonight and beyond will exact a heavy price on our enemies,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after a security cabinet meeting late Thursday.
Tensions along the Lebanese border have flared in recent weeks as Israel appears to have stepped up its shadow war against Iran-linked targets in Syria, another close ally of Iran and Israel’s arch-enemy in the region.
Suspected Israeli airstrikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers and temporarily shut down the country’s two largest airports. Hecht, the military spokesman, said Thursday’s missile fire was unrelated to events in Syria.
“This is Hamas dominant,” Hecht said, referring to the targets of Israeli airstrikes in Lebanon and Gaza.
In Jerusalem, even as calm prevailed in Al-Aqsa hours after the violence erupted, the situation remained tense ahead of Friday noon prayers.
On the previous two nights, Palestinians barricaded themselves in the mosque with stones and firecrackers. Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets to evict worshippers. On Tuesday, Israeli police brutally beat Palestinians and arrested more than 400 people, igniting Arab cities in Israel, the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Israeli authorities control access to the site, but the building is administered by Islamic and Jordanian officials.
Associated Press writer Abby Sewell in Beirut contributed to this report.