Lebanese president Michel Aoun says attacks show escalation of ‘aggressive intent’
August 5 2021
Israel carried out rare air strikes inside Lebanese territory overnight on Wednesday, after a small barrage of rockets from southern Lebanon started huge blazes in northern Israeli territory.
The early morning air strikes, the first to be claimed by the Israeli air force since at least 2014, were preceded by dozens of artillery rounds as UN peacekeepers urged “maximum restraint”. Lebanese president Michel Aoun said the air strikes showed an escalation of Israel’s “aggressive intent”.
Israel has stopped short of holding Hizbollah, the powerful Iran-backed Shia paramilitary group based in Lebanon, responsible for this week’s rockets, or for the intermittent volleys that accompanied its recent conflict with Palestinian militants in the blockaded Gaza Strip.
“I believe that Hizbollah is not behind the last event, I believe that Hizbollah is too busy with what it has to deal with in Lebanon,” said Nitzan Nuriel, a brigadier-general in the Israeli army reserves, referring to the economic situation in the country. “And those Palestinian terror organizations in (South Lebanon) are trying to show solidarity to the brothers in Gaza.”
Speaking to an Israeli news website, defence minister Benny Gantz said he believed a Palestinian faction, rather than Hizbollah, which Israel battled last in 2006, was responsible for the rockets. He did not name the faction.
“This was an attack meant to send a message . . . Clearly we could do much more, and we hope we won’t arrive at that,” he told Ynet news.
Israeli warplanes struck about 12km inside Lebanon, near the town of Mahmudiya, Lebanese news media reported. There were no casualties.
On the Israeli side, hundreds of acres of forest land were burnt, and at least one mountain ridge remained ablaze late into Wednesday night, according to the Israel fire and rescue services.
One Israeli official said the blazes, which come as Greece and Turkey fight large forest fires, mirror those started in the Israeli south by Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip.
Thousands of acres of farm and brushland have been set ablaze by incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip since 2019, as Hamas put pressure on Israel to ease the blockade on the Mediterranean enclave.
The latest air strikes, which were carried out at about 1am, were seen as a warning that Israel would not tolerate Palestinian militants in Lebanon using the same tactics to pressure Israel, the official said.
Israel is involved in negotiations with Egypt, Qatar and the UN on allowed international aid into the Gaza Strip after an 11-day conflict with Hamas in May. Israel has tried to ensure that the entry of aid into the strip — which it has kept under a punishing air, land and sea blockade since about 2007 — will not benefit Hamas.
Qatari aid usually comes in the form of monthly $100 cash payments to civilian employees of Hamas. Israel instead wants to strengthen Hamas’ more moderate rival, the Palestinian Authority.
Israeli officials have indicated to the UN that the Qatari aid be more closely tied to the PA, rather than Hamas. That has held up the cash disbursal, and angered Hamas, which uses its economic and ideological ties to Qatar to prop up its own control of the Gaza Strip.