A loud explosion was heard in the Galilee panhandle at around 7:20 pm, only several hours after Defense Minister Ehud Barak toured the northern border. No air raid siren was sounded before the blast, as it has been neutralized.
The explosion started a fire, which spread to fallow land and a nearby orchard. Firefighters from Kiryat Shmona attempted to put out the fire. Israeli security sources estimate that the rocket was not fired by Hezbollah, but rather by a small Palestinian organization.
A Lebanese security source told Reuters that the rocket was fired from the Lebanese village of Houla, where alleged spy devices uncovered under the ground were detonated recently. Representatives of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were expected to arrive at the landing site to examine the rocket, and the IDF has filed an official complaint.
Rocket landing site (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Etti, a local resident, was very close to the explosion site. "I went out with a friend to run, on a track which ends in Kriyat Shmona. We heard a whistle and then a loud explosion several seconds later. When we turned our heads we saw sparks and smoke coming out of a nearby orchard.
"After living in the north for many years, we immediately understood what had happened. Police and Magen David Adom forces and firefighters arrived at the area several minutes later."
Miriam, a resident of one of the Upper Galilee communities, told Ynet: "My husband and I were at home, when we suddenly heard an explosion. As people used to living in such an area, we immediately understood that a Katyusha had landed.
"We were glad to hear that there were no injuries and that the rocket hit an open area. My husband went out to see where it landed. Unfortunately, we cannot know with our northern neighbors when they throw the rockets. Whenever they feel like it, they just take a launcher and fire. We hear the blasts very well."
'They're trying to drag us to a conflict'
Heads of local authorities in the north praised the IDF's restraint. Avi Krampa, head of the Maale Yosef Regional Council and chairman of the northern confrontation line forum, said that "this firing is troublesome, but we must take into account that we will be forced to face a similar situation from now. Someone may be truing to drag us into a conflict, but I back the way the IDF has chosen to respond, rather than escalate the situation and lead to a harsh response or to a war over every rocket launched at the north.
"This evening's firing incident reminds the Israeli government that the confrontation line in the north exists and that every budget we are fighting for is crucial. The council head forum's members back the IDF, which makes sure to update us on every development on the border from time to time."
Examining rocket's remains (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
Defense Minister Barak said during his visit to the north on Tuesday, "There are not only friends around us, but also enemies. We are constantly developing in terms of defense, and fighting whenever needed. We have been in a series of wars since the War of Independence to the Second Lebanon War and Operation Cast Lead.
"Israel is not hesitating and is doing all it can to make peace, and peace cannot be made in the Middle East if you don’t have the strongest army. As the left door opens every door in search of peace, the right hand is on the trigger, ready for any option at any given moment."
The last time Katyusha rockets exploded in the north was in mid September. Two 122-millimter rockets hit open areas, and one was located near a kibbutz in the Western Galilee. Shortly after the incident, the IDF filed an official complaint with United Nation peacekeeper stationed on the Israel-Lebanon border.
On February 21, two Katyushas landed near a house in a Western Galilee community. Three people were lightly injured and two suffered shock. A building sustained damage. Lebanese sources had said at the time that another rocket fired exploded on Lebanese soil. The IDF had responded to the rockets by firing back into Lebanon.
Hanan Greenberg and Reuters contributed to this report