Fire exchanges erupted Sunday between IDF soldiers and Palestinians on both sides of the northern border in the kibbutz Manara region, just hours after Katyusha rockets were fired at Israel's North. Several other rockets may have also been launched in recent hours.
Security forces have called on the residents of the western Galilee region along the northern border to leave their homes and enter secured rooms or bomb shelters.
After three to eight Katyusha rockets were fired at northern Israel from Lebanon Sunday morning, the Israeli Air Force reprised with an air strike on two bases in southeast Lebanon, wounding six Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine operatives.
Some of the Katyushas hit in the residential section of the air control unit base in Mount Meron, some 10 km (6.25 miles) from the border. One soldier suffered from shock and was evacuated to the Ziv hospital in Safed in light condition, and one of the base’s buildings was lightly damaged.
Shortly after 10 a.m. the air force retaliated with missile strikes in the Lebanese valley. The first targeted the Popular Front general headquarters in Sultan Yaakov five kilometers from the Syrian border. Al Jazeera reported that eight missiles were fired at the base, wounding at least three operatives. Afterwards, the planes returned and fired at a Popular Front base in the Nueima area south of Beirut.
Soldiers at rocket landing site area (Photo: Avihu Shapira)
The IDF confirmed that the IAF attacked two sites in southeast Lebanon. The IDF said the air force targeted “the bases of two terror organizations in Lebanon.”
“The IDF sees the Lebanese government as responsible for all terror attacks emanating from Lebanese territory targeting Israeli land,” the army said in a statement.
The Northern Command held discussions Sunday morning following the Katyusha strike, and Chief of Staff Dan Halutz met with political officials to evaluate the situation.
Israel has also instructed its delegation to the United Nations to submit a formal complaint over the attack.
PFLP lauds attack on Israel
A senior PFLP member told al-Jazeera his group has the right to retaliate for the attack. Asked whether his group was behind the attack, he refused to answer and said: "Blessed be the hand that fired into Israel."
Witnesses said the group fired anti-aircraft bullets at IAF jets, contradicting earlier reports that the Lebanese Army was behind the fire.
Lebanese politician have urged the government to ban Palestinians from carrying weapons outside the refugee camps as a first step towards disarmament in line UN resolution 1559.
The 122-milimeter diameter rockets were apparently fired at about 4:30 a.m. The Northern Command is looking into the attack, which qualifies as unusual, as strikes usually target near-border army posts rather then more distant bases.
Some six to seven explosions were heard in the northern region in the morning hours, but only three landing sites – all in the army base area – have been located so far.
No organization has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, which the IDF believes may have been aimed at the security-sensitive base.
The IDF suspects there could be a link between Sunday's attack and Friday's assassination of two Islamic Jihad leaders in Sidon, south of Beirut.
In recent weeks, the Northern Command has raised its alert level for fear Hizbullah may attempt to carry out a large-scale terror attack in the area, or even try and abduct soldiers. It is unclear at present whether the rocket strike this morning is linked with the increased alert.
The elevated tension that has been prevailing in the North lately is also related to the upcoming sixth anniversary of Israel's withdrawal from Lebanon, and to the killing this weekend of an Islamic Jihad top leader in Lebanon, for which the organization holds Israel responsible.
Hagai Einav and Reuters contributed to the report