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Rockets fired at Israel from Lebanon

Israelis escape injury in the first rocket attack from Lebanon in two years. Officials blame militants, but not Hezbollah.

August 22, 2013|By Edmund Sanders

JERUSALEM — The first rocket barrage from Lebanon to reach Israel in two years sent residents in the north scurrying for bomb shelters Thursday evening, but caused no injuries or significant damage, officials said.

Israel Defense Forces said its Iron Dome missile interception system destroyed one rocket over northern Israel. As many as three others are believed to have fallen into the sea.

Though initial Lebanese news reports suggested Hezbollah launched the attack, Israeli officials said they believe the rockets were fired by an Al Qaeda-inspired militant group operating from a village south of the Lebanese town of Tyre.

Israel said it holds the Lebanese government responsible for attacks emanating from its territory.

"This was an unprovoked attack against Israel and its citizens," military spokesman Peter Lerner said.

Residents told Israeli news media that explosions could be heard from the towns of Nahariya and Acre. Haifa airports were temporarily closed as a precaution and residents were ordered to take cover in shelters.

Television video showed destroyed rocket fragments that had fallen to the ground near Nahariya.

It was a rare flare-up of violence along the Israel-Lebanon border, which has remained relatively quiet since the month-long clash between Israel and Hezbollah in 2006.

Hezbollah has not fired a rocket at Israel since then, though it is believed to have stockpiled 60,000 to 100,000 projectiles, capable of reaching all corners of Israel.

Militants in Lebanon last hit Israel in 2011, though an attack last year fell short and landed in Lebanon. Israel has warned that it would retaliate harshly for rockets fired from southern Lebanon.

Tension between the two countries has been rising in recent weeks. Some Lebanese leaders blamed Israel for a Beirut car bombing this month that killed at least 21 people in a Hezbollah-dominated neighborhood.

Earlier this month, four Israeli soldiers were wounded by an explosion as they patrolled on the Lebanese side of the border, according to U.N. officials. Hezbollah later claimed responsibility for ambushing the patrol, which it said violated Lebanese territory.

Some analysts speculated that militants may be hoping to drag Israel into the region's fast-spreading conflict, which is centered on Syria's civil war. Hezbollah has sent its fighters to Syria to assist President Bashar Assad fight rebels.

But Israeli officials believe Hezbollah has little interest in provoking Israel into another clash.

"They are already overstretched in Syria," one defense official said this month, speaking on the condition of anonymity in keeping with military policy. "Hezbollah doesn't want to ignite Lebanon by having a war with Israel."

edmund.sanders@latimes.com

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