Jerusalem (CNN) Dozens of rockets were fired from Lebanon into Israel on Thursday, the Israeli army said, in a major escalation that comes amid regional tensions over Israeli police raids in the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Some 34 rockets were fired from Lebanese territory into Israeli territory, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said, and most were intercepted, but six landed in Israel.
It was the biggest such attack since the 2006 war between the two countries that left around 1,200 Lebanese and 165 Israelis dead.
Videos posted on social media showed rockets streaking through the skies over northern Israel and the sound of explosions in the distance.
The country closed its northern airspace in the aftermath of the bombing. No deaths were reported and it is not yet known which group in Lebanon launched the rockets.
Israel said it would “decide the place and time” of its response, an IDF defense official who asked not to be named told CNN. An Israeli military spokesman said he believed a Palestinian militant group was behind the attack, not the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
The Lebanese army confirmed that several rockets were launched from the south of the country, but did not specify who fired them. He said on Twitter that a unit had found “missile launchers and several rockets intended to be launched” in the vicinity of the Lebanese towns of Zibqin and Qlaileh, and was “currently working to dismantle them.”
Hezbollah has yet to comment on the incident. It comes a day after Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, arrived in Beirut to meet with Hezbollah officials.
Tensions are through the roof in the region after Israeli police stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem on two separate occasions on Wednesday as Palestinian worshipers offered prayers during the holy month of Ramadan.
The IDF’s international spokesman, Lt. Col. Richard Hecht, linked the rocket fire to the two Israeli raids on al-Aqsa Mosque, saying they had created “very negative energies”.
“The context of the story begins two days ago on the Temple Mount with these very, very harsh images coming out of the night prayer,” Hecht said, using the Jewish name for the Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Haram. al-Sharif. , or Noble Sanctuary.
Footage from inside the mosque showed Israeli officers beating people with their batons and rifle butts, then arresting hundreds of Palestinians. Israeli police said they entered the mosque after “hundreds of rioters” tried to barricade themselves inside.
The incident, which was met with widespread condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world, prompted retaliatory rocket fire from Gaza into Israel.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told CNN that “we are in a very dangerous moment.”
“What we see unfolding on the Lebanese border is obviously a consequence, a reaction to what we saw happening at al-Aqsa (mosque).” Safadi said.
Lebanon and Israel are considered enemy states, but a truce between them has largely held since the 2006 war.
There have been several small-scale rocket attacks from Lebanon in recent years that have prompted retaliatory strikes from Israel. Few casualties were reported in those incidents, with the highest death toll in a 2015 exchange of fire that left two Israeli soldiers and a Spanish peacekeeper dead. Palestinian factions in Lebanon were believed to be behind those rocket attacks.
The 2006 conflict was the largest outbreak between Lebanon and Israel since 1982. Around 1,200 Lebanese and 165 Israelis were killed in an exchange of fire that involved a nationwide Israeli air assault and a naval and air blockade. Hezbollah fired many bursts of rockets that reached deep into Israeli territory during the conflict.
The escalation is ‘extremely serious’
The Israeli military blamed the rockets on either Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hecht said the IDF assumed “Hezbollah knew and that Lebanon also bears responsibility.”
But he stressed several times that the IDF considered the attack to come from a Palestinian source and did not represent an expansion of the conflict to actors outside of the direct Israeli-Palestinian conflict, raising hopes that tensions could be defused afterwards. the incident.
The Lebanese Foreign Ministry also said it was ready to cooperate with the United Nations and take steps to “restore calm and stability” in the south, while calling on “the international community to put pressure on Israel to stop the escalation,” the state agency said. The National News Agency reported.
The IDF has been concerned for some time about an escalation on the Lebanese border and organized a high-level seminar in the spring of 2022 to inform journalists and policy makers about it.
The UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said Thursday’s escalation of violence between Lebanon and Israel was “extremely serious”.
UNIFIL also said it has ordered its personnel stationed on the border between the two countries to move into bomb shelters, as a “common practice”.
The White House said it was “extremely concerned by the continuing violence and we urge all parties to avoid further escalation.”
Mia Alberti and Ghazi Balkiz contributed to this report.