Israel hit by barrage of rockets ‘fired by militants in Lebanon’

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Militants in Lebanon have fired a barrage of rockets at Israel, forcing people into bomb shelters and wounding at least two, the country’s military said.

The strikes ratcheted up regional tensions a day after Israeli police raided Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site.

Israel’s military said 34 rockets had been fired across the border and that 25 were shot down by its Iron Dome aerial defence system.

Another five rockets struck Israeli territory and the rest of the strikes were being investigated, security forces added.

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An Israeli police officer stands beside a crater where remains of an intercepted rocket fired from Lebanon fell in Shlomi, northern Israel (Ariel Schalit/AP)

Over the past two days, tensions have rocketed at the sacred compound home to the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem and along Israel’s tense border with Gaza.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed an “aggressive response”.

“We will strike our enemies and they will pay a price for every act of aggression,” he said in a statement late on Thursday, adding that Israelis remain united in the face of external threats despite their political differences.

In a briefing with reporters, Richard Hecht, an Israeli military spokesman, said the army drew a clear connection between the rocket fire and the recent unrest in Jerusalem.

“It’s a Palestinian-oriented event,” he said, adding that either the Hamas or Islamic Jihad militant groups could be involved.

But he said the army believed that Hezbollah and the Lebanese government were aware of what happened and also held responsibility. He declined to say how Israel might respond, saying there were “all sorts of scenarios”.

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Palestinians burn tyres and wave the national flag during a protest against an Israeli police raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, along the border fence with Israel, east of Gaza City (Adel Hana/AP)

On Thursday, Hezbollah condemned Israel’s storming of Al-Aqsa, calling it “a flagrant violation”. The shrine — the third-holiest site in Islam — stands on a hilltop revered by Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.

No faction in Lebanon claimed responsibility for the salvo of rockets, which set off air raid sirens across the country’s north.

A Lebanese security official said the country’s security forces believed the rockets were launched by a Lebanon-based Palestinian militant group, not by Hezbollah militants. The official said there were no casualties on the Lebanese side.

A spokesperson for Hezbollah did not respond to a request for comment. Both Israel and Hezbollah have avoided an all-out conflict since their 34-day war in 2006 ended in a draw.

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Israeli police detain a Palestinian in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound (Mahmoud Illean/AP)

Suspected Israeli air strikes in Syria in recent weeks have killed two Iranian military advisers and temporarily put the country’s two largest airports out of service. Mr Hecht said Thursday’s rocket fire was not believed to be connected to events in Syria.

In Washington, Principal Deputy State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said: “Israel has legitimate security concerns and has every right to defend themselves.”

But he also urged calm in Jerusalem. “We emphasise the importance of upholding the historic status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem and any unilateral action that jeopardises the status quo to us is unacceptable,” he said.

In Israel, Thursday’s rocket fire from Lebanon sent shrapnel flying that wounded at least two people, according to the Galilee Medical Centre. They included a 19-year-old man who was struck while driving in the Arab village of Fassouta and a 26-year-old hit while riding a motorbike. Israeli police said a bomb squad removed a number of fragments from areas in the north.

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