Israel shells Lebanon after rocket attack in western Galilee

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JERUSALEM — A rocket fired from Lebanon landed near a kibbutz in Israel early Monday, prompting return shelling by the Israeli military. Cross-border strikes were the first in this manner in months. It raised concerns that unrest in Jerusalem, Gaza Strip and Israel could reach Israel’s northern borders.

No group in Lebanon immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket, which landed in an open field near Metzuva in the western Galilee region. Lebanese media reported that the Grad rocket was launched from Qiliya and Ras al-Ein, just south of Tyre.

Israeli artillery units fired some 50 shells toward the identified launch site, an army official said. According to military officials, they believe that militants from Palestine are more responsible for the attack than Hezbollah (an Iranian-aligned terrorist group) which holds most of the seats in Lebanon’s parliament.

The head of a United Nations force responsible for monitoring the Lebanese border called for restraint from both sides.

Since recent clashes between police and protesters at al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City, Israeli officials have been braced for possible responses from militant groups.

Palestinians have accused Israel of trampling on Muslim primacy at the site, which is considered sacred in Islam and Judaism. Palestinians claim that police have followed rock-throwing protesters to the mosque, and at times allowed Jewish people to use the plaza for prayer in contravention of long-standing agreements. The site is managed by an Islamic trust in Jordan and prohibits non-Muslim prayer. However, Jewish activists sometimes defy this ban.

Israeli officials have said they are committed to preserving the delicate balance of access to the plaza and noted that the site was kept open for prayer by thousands of Ramadan worshipers despite the troubles.

Last year, clashes around the mosque and surrounding neighborhoods during Ramadan — among police, Palestinians and right-wing Israeli activists — escalated into an 11-day air assault between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip.

In the past week, at least five rockets have been fired toward Israel from Gaza, leading to retaliatory airstrikes. No injuries were reported. Officials from both sides have indicated to outside mediators that they are not seeking a recurrence of the all-out battle in 2021 that devastated Gaza’s infrastructure, killing more than 250 people there and 13 in Israel.

Israeli officials closed the main crossing between Gaza and Israel on Sunday to pressure Hamas to rein in militant activity. The move prevents some 12,000 Gazans with Israeli work permits from reaching their jobs and cuts their pay in the week before Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan.

The suspension interrupts a months-long ramping up of economic ties that both sides say are important to calming tensions. According to Palestinian media, Hamas officials called the suspension “collective punishment.”

But Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Monday the closure would continue until officials were confident the rockets would stop. Officials believe the rocket attacks were the work of smaller militant organizations, but they blame Hamas for the halting them.

“Israel is the strongest country in the area,” Gantz said, according to Israeli media reports. “We will continue to show civilian and economic largesse only if security stability is maintained.”

Armed exchanges across the Lebanese border also flared during last year’s Gaza battle. There had been a stretch of relative calm in the north since August 2021, when a barrage of Hezbollah rockets targeted the Golan Heights.

Monday’s launch appeared to be a minor one. According to the Israeli military, it was found but didn’t trigger any air raid sirens. Walla News was told by an Israeli official that they are investigating the possibility that it wasn’t Hezbollah’s rocket fire.

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