Lebanon's army clamps down on rocket attacks to Israel
A soldier examines the remains of a rocket fired from Israel into the south of Lebanon, December 29, 2013 (File/AFP)
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The Lebanese Army Tuesday stepped up its patrols in border areas in south Lebanon in a bid to prevent the firing of rockets on Israel, which retaliated with artillery shelling of Lebanese villages.
Lebanon, meanwhile, is planning to lodge a complaint with the U.N. Security Council against Israel’s retaliatory attacks on Lebanese villages.
Salvoes of rockets launched from Lebanese territory toward Israel for the fourth consecutive day and the subsequent Israeli retaliatory shelling of Lebanese villages have heightened tensions between the two countries and threatened to ignite the generally calm front in the south. The rocket attacks have been linked to Israel’s weeklong military offensive against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
The Army said in a statement that troops continued to hunt for the perpetrators involved in firing two rockets at 10:30 p.m. Monday, in the fourth such attack in as many days, from an area south of the southern coastal city of Tyre toward Israel.
“Army troops immediately began patrolling the area and imposed a security cordon around it,” the statement said. It added that troops launched a manhunt for the perpetrators behind the rocket attack.
The Army said it was investigating the incident in coordination with the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The military said Israel responded by targeting the outskirts of the villages of Qulayleh and Maalieh with 31 artillery shells.
No casualties were reported, the statement added.
The National News Agency said earlier that Israel had bombarded the environs of Batoulieh and Ras al-Ain near the Palestinian refugee camp of Rashidieh on the outskirts of the southern city of Tyre at a rate of one shell every minute between 11 p.m. and midnight.
The Israeli shelling came after two rockets were fired at Israel from south Lebanon Monday night, security sources told The Daily Star.
The rockets were launched from the area of Qulayleh near Tyre. The Israeli army confirmed that the projectiles hit the Jewish state, prompting Israeli artillery to shell the launch site.
Some of the rockets launched since Friday were fired from the same area.
NNA said security forces blocked the coastal highway between Tyre and the border town of Naqoura as a safety measure.
Lebanese authorities have arrested a suspect near Rashidieh in connection with the recent rocket attacks into Israel, a security source told The Daily Star.
The source said the Army had imposed strict measures in the region south of the Litani River that is bound by UN Resolution 1701, which ended Israel’s 2006 War on Lebanon.
Except for Hussein Izzat Atwe, who belongs to Al-Jamaa al-Islamiya, who has confessed to firing rockets on Israel from the village of Marie in Hasbaya last Friday, no group has so far claimed responsibility for any of the other three rocket attacks on Israel.
Foreign Affairs Minister Gebran Bassil said he would lodge a complaint with the Security Council against Israel’s recent attacks on Lebanon. “We will take such a measure, but we are waiting to gather the facts to finalize the case and then send the complaint to the Security Council,” Bassil told reporters at Beirut airport after arriving from Brazil.
“Someone is trying to use Lebanon as a launching pad to respond to Israel over events in Gaza. This is not the policy of the state which is taking security measures in this regard,” Bassil said.
Blaming the rocket attacks on Israel on “undisciplined elements,” he said: “But that doesn’t mean Israel can attack Lebanon. Lebanon has enough force to deter Israel from attacking it.”
Israel also filed a complaint at the United Nations against the rocket attacks. Israel’s UN representative sent a message to the UN secretary-general holding Lebanon responsible for the firing of rockets.
UN Special Coordinator Derek Plumbly condemned both the rocket attacks on Israel and the Israeli retaliatory action, saying that UNIFIL launched an investigation in coordination with the Lebanese Army in order to prevent their recurrence.
“These are clear violations of Resolution 1701 and pose a serious threat to the calm which has prevailed in the area, and to stability more generally,” the U.N. special coordinator said in a statement after meeting Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail.
Plumbly called on parties “to exercise restraint and to cooperate with UNIFIL in implementation of Resolution 1701 to prevent their recurrence and any escalation.”
The parliamentary Future bloc also deplored the firing of rockets from Lebanon into Israel, saying the action was “a calculated attempt” to use Lebanese territory to implement “regional policies” that contradicted Lebanon’s national interests.
“The battle of the Palestinian people to regain their rights and land is our own battle and central cause, but the bloc categorically rejects the use of Lebanese territory to launch rockets into Israel, which stems from its opposition to the use of illegitimate arms in Lebanon,” the bloc said in a statement after its weekly meeting.
Reiterating its stance that the arms of the state were the only legitimate means to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression, the bloc said that “ Lebanon cannot endure another security setback.”
Meanwhile, Syrian helicopters fired several rockets into the outskirts of the northeastern town of Arsal, wounding 11 people, a security source in the Bekaa town of Hermel said.
A Syrian helicopter fired two rockets into a cherry field in the Wadi al-Hawa on the outskirts of Arsal, the source told The Daily Star.
The morning attack wounded seven people, including Hasan al-Hujeiri, his son and his brother, as well as Syrian national Walid Hassoun, who sustained a head wound.
The Lebanese Army confirmed the rocket attack in a statement, saying Syrian helicopters fired the missiles around 11:30 a.m.
It added that a number of citizens were wounded in the raid and were taken to hospital for treatment.
Hours later, another Syrian air raid targeted the outskirts of Arsal, wounding four people.
The NNA said the afternoon rockets landed in Wadi Zamrani and Ajram, targeting “armed groups along the border with Lebanon.”
By Mohammed Zaatari, Rakan Al-Fakih