by Rouba El Husseini with Mahmoud Zayyat near Shebaa Farms / AFP
BEIRUT – Lebanon’s Hezbollah fired more than 10 rockets into Israel Friday, prompting retaliatory shelling, in a major escalation between the Iran-backed Shiite movement and the Jewish state.
A flareup along the border this week has seen Israel carry out its first air strikes on Lebanese territory in seven years and Hezbollah claim a direct rocket attack on Israeli territory for the first time since 2019.
“This is a very dangerous situation, with escalatory actions seen on both sides over the past two days,” the United Nations peacekeeping force in the border region, UNIFIL, said in a statement calling on “parties to cease fire and maintain calm”.
Hezbollah said it fired dozens of rockets at open ground near Israeli positions in the disputed Shebaa Farms border district.
It said the attack came in response to Israeli air strikes on south Lebanon Thursday which where the first since 2014.
An AFP correspondent in south Lebanon said he heard several explosions and saw smoke rising from around the Shebaa Farms.
The Israeli military said more than 10 rockets were fired, most of which it intercepted, while the rest landed in open areas.
It released video of multiple vapour trails in the skies and said it was “currently striking the launch sources in Lebanon” but did not elaborate.
UNIFIL reported an “artillery response from Israel in the Shebaa Farms area”, following the Hezbollah rocket attack.
An AFP correspondent in south Lebanon reported artillery fire by Israeli forces on the Shebaa Farms and outside the town of Kfarchouba.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar television channel also reported Israeli shelling.
The Shebaa Farms district is claimed by Lebanon but the United Nations regards it as part of the Syrian Golan Heights, which Israel has occupied since 1967 and unilaterally annexed in 1981.
Rocket launcher confiscated
Villagers in the south Lebanon district of Hasbaya stopped a truck carrying a multiple rocket launcher used in Friday’s attack, a military source told AFP.
The source said the army had confiscated the launcher.
A video widely shared on social media showed angry villagers blocking the truck’s passage and accusing Hezbollah of endangering civilian lives by launching rockets from close to residential areas.
Hezbollah said the truck was stopped after the group conducted the attack, but said the rockets were fired far from residential areas to ensure civilian safety.
A series of rocket attacks have been launched from Lebanon towards Israel since Wednesday, but with the exception of Friday’s salvo, they have remained unclaimed.
Before Thursday, Israel’s last air strikes on Lebanon dated back to 2014 when warplanes struck territory near the Syrian border.
They had not targeted Hezbollah’s south Lebanon strongholds since the militants fought a devastating conflict with Israel in 2006.
Lebanon condemned Thursday’s strikes by Israeli as an “escalation” that could mark a change of tactics by Israel, while UNIFIL urged restraint.
Israel has warned repeatedly that it will not allow a power vacuum and a deepening economic crisis in Beirut to undermine security on its northern border.
The Israeli military said it “views the state of Lebanon as responsible for all actions originating in its territory, and warns against further attempts to harm Israeli civilians and Israel’s sovereignty”.