JERUSALEM (AFP) – The Israeli air force struck a Palestinian group in Lebanon Friday, officials said, hours after a different organisation said it had fired four rockets at the Jewish state from Lebanon.
The raid, which the Lebanese army said caused no casualties or damage, nonetheless drew condemnation from the Lebanese government as a violation of its sovereignty after it had vowed to hunt down the perpetrators of Thursday’s rocket fire.
Israeli aircraft “targeted a terror site located between Beirut and Sidon in response to a barrage of four rockets launched at northern Israel yesterday (Thursday),” the military said.
“The pilots reported direct hits to the target.”
Palestinian and Lebanese officials said the target was a position of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine – General Command (PFLP-GC), a hardline but secular militant group that said it had nothing to do with Thursday’s rocket fire.
The salvo of four rockets, which caused damage but no casualties, was claimed by the Abdullah Azzam Brigades — an Al-Qaeda-linked group that claimed similar rocket fire on Israel in 2009 and 2011.
Israeli army spokesman Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai said Thursday the rockets were “launched by the global jihad terror organisation” — an apparent reference to Al-Qaeda.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened retaliation, saying on Thursday that “anyone who harms us, or tries to harm us, should know — we will strike them.”
The UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL said it had been in touch with Israeli commanders to press them to halt offensive operations and with Lebanese commanders to urge restraint.
“After receiving the news about the air strike, I was in contact with the IDF (Israeli army) commander, stressing upon them to cease from any offensive military operation,” mission head Major General Paolo Serra said.
“I also called on the LAF (Lebanese army) commander emphasising the need to exercise maximum restraint to avoid undesired consequences.”
Two of the four rockets fired on Thursday hit populated areas of northern Israel, causing damage but no casualties.
A third rocket was intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, the army said. The fourth apparently struck outside Israel.
Thursday’s attack was the first of its kind since November 2011, when the same Palestinian jihadist group fired a volley of rockets from southern Lebanon at Israel. That fire too provoked retaliation by the Israeli military.
The PFLP-GC base targeted was in the Naameh valley. The Palestinian group has a number of heavily fortified positions in Lebanon.
“Around 4 am (0100 GMT), the Israeli air force fired a missile on the Naameh valley without causing any casualties or damage,” PFLP-GC spokesman Ramez Mustapha said.
He denied any link between his group and the rockets fired at Israel on Thursday.
Headed by Ahmed Jibril, the PFLP-GC is known for close ties with the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
The Lebanese army said: “An Israeli enemy aircraft fired a missile from over the sea towards Naameh where a Palestinian group has a base in underground tunnels.”
The strike created a “crater five metres (16 feet) across but caused no casualties or damage.”
Lebanese President Michel Sleimane, who had condemned Thursday’s rocket fire, also denounced the Israeli retaliation, adding that he had asked Foreign Minister Adnane Mansour to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council.
“Border violations are a matter settled by the UNIFIL panel of inquiry and not by aggression and violation of Lebanese sovereignty as Israel did in Naameh,” his office said.
Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel had “attacked terror targets in Lebanon… in response to yesterday’s launches at the Western Galilee.”
“The State of Israel considers the Lebanese government responsible for what happens in its territory, and will not stand idly by while it is attacked or provoked and will not allow any element to disrupt the lives of our civilians,” he said in a statement.