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Israel, militant groups in Lebanon trade rocket fire

No injuries are reported on either side of the border. It is the first exchange of fire between Israel and militant groups in Lebanon since February.

September 12, 2009|Borzou Daragahi and Richard Boudreaux

BEIRUT AND JERUSALEM — Two rockets were fired into northern Israel from southern Lebanon on Friday, and Israel responded minutes later by launching a barrage of 14 rockets and scrambling fighter jets across the volatile border, Lebanese and Israeli media reported.

No one was reported injured on either side of the border, often a stage for conflict between Israel and Lebanese or Palestinian militant groups across the rocky frontier.

It was the first exchange of fire between Israel and militants in Lebanon since February, highlighting heightened tensions. Israel and the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah have been warning in recent weeks that they will retaliate if the other side sparks hostilities.

Israeli police said the two rockets landed in the northern Galilee region, one just outside the town of Nahariya. Israel's Channel 10 showed a toppled telephone pole near a kibbutz not far from the border.

The Israeli military said it fired back at the site from where the rockets were launched, in the village of Kleili, south of the Lebanese port city of Tyre.

A monthlong 2006 war sparked by Hezbollah's capture of Israeli soldiers on the border left more than 1,000 dead, mostly Lebanese civilians.

But Israel has largely blamed fringe militant groups rather than Iranian-backed Hezbollah for the occasional cross-border salvos since then. Israel, however, is worried that Hezbollah will become part of the new Lebanese Cabinet and use the U.S.-backed government as cover to safeguard and bolster its stockpile of heavy weaponry and its intelligence apparatus.

Efforts to build a Cabinet collapsed Thursday after Lebanon's prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, quit, complaining of intransigence by the Hezbollah-led opposition.

Israel and the West have called on Lebanese authorities to disarm Hezbollah, as demanded by the United Nations. Hezbollah says it needs weapons to defend Lebanese civilians from Israeli incursions.

A statement issued by the Israeli military said it "considers the Lebanese government and Lebanese military as accountable to prevent such attacks."

Lebanon's official National News Agency said the Israeli shells hit uninhabited areas and that "tranquillity was restored" except for continued Israeli warplane flyovers.

At the U.N., Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the rocket fire into Israel, and appealed to all parties to exercise maximum restraint. He said that the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon is investigating the incident.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said U.S. officials "strongly condemn these attacks," and viewed them as a violation of a U.N. resolution that ended the conflict three years ago between Israel and the militant group.

Crowley said the incident underscored the need for the Lebanese government to extend its control over all armed groups within its border, and for world powers to support the U.N. mission in Lebanon.

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daragahi@latimes.com

boudreaux@latimes.com

Times staff writer Paul Richter in Washington contributed to this report.

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