BEIRUT — Hezbollah launched a barrage of rockets across Lebanon’s southern border on Friday in retaliation for Israel’s airstrikes earlier in the week.
In a brief statement, Hezbollah said it had launched “tens” of 122 mm rockets aimed at open areas near Israeli military positions in the Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory of Shebaa Farms. An Israeli army spokesperson said the group had launched 19 rockets, of which 10 were intercepted and three fell inside Lebanese territory.
Israel responded with artillery shelling, which it said struck “rocket launch sites” in Lebanon. Hezbollah-affiliated TV channel Al-Manar said the Israeli artillery hit open areas.
By early afternoon, quiet had returned to the area, Al-Manar reported. There were no immediate reports of casualties on either side.
The exchange of fire comes in response to Israeli airstrikes late Wednesday night in southern Lebanon, the first such strikes in Lebanon to be confirmed since February 2014. Those airstrikes were themselves a response to three rockets fired from Lebanese territory toward occupied Palestine earlier on Wednesday, which are presumed to have been launched by Palestinian militants, although no group has claimed responsibility.
Prior to today’s border fire, rockets have been launched from Lebanon to occupied Palestine on five separate occasions since May 13, 2021. Hezbollah did not claim any of these launches, the first rocket fire from Lebanon since 2015.
Israel violates Lebanese airspace on a near-daily basis — a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701 — with 260 recorded violations between Feb. 20 and June 18 of this year alone.
The UN peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon, UNIFIL, called the latest exchange of fire “a very serious situation” and called for all parties to cease fire. UNIFIL convened an extraordinary tripartite meeting with representatives from the Lebanese and Israeli militaries yesterday to try to de-escalate the conflict.
Following the airstrikes late Wednesday into early Thursday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun said in a statement that “submitting a complaint to the United Nations is an indispensable step to deter Israel from continuing its attacks on Lebanon.” Aoun said that the airstrikes represented an “escalation of aggression” against Lebanon.
Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Thursday asked the foreign minister to submit an “urgent complaint” to the UN Security Council regarding the Israeli strikes.
Following Hezbollah’s retaliation on Friday, Future Movement leader Saad Hariri accused the state of abandoning its responsibilities over matters of war and peace in a series of tweets. “Using the south as a platform for regional conflicts,” he added “is a step into the unknown that puts all of Lebanon in the crosshairs of the wars of others.”
Hezbollah’s military operation sparked a confrontation in Shwaya, Hasbaya, with angry residents of the predominantly Druze village stopping a contingent of Hezbollah fighters who were driving through the town after launching rockets earlier in the morning.
Hezbollah confirmed the incident in a statement after videos circulated social media showing residents stopping the truck, which was laden with a rocket-launching platform partially-loaded with missiles not fired in the organization’s cross-border attack.
The Lebanese Army said it had arrested four people in the village after they had allegedly fired rockets, and impounded their missile platform, without naming the perpetrators as Hezbollah members.
The mayor of the village told L’Orient Today that while the Hezbollah fighters had not fired the rockets from a populated area, their launch site was near the village. Hezbollah, meanwhile, said that they aimed not to expose civilians to harm and had conducted their operation in a “forested area from far from the village.”
“We are not used to someone putting our area in danger. … We don’t understand military tactics, we only care about the security of our people,” said Sami Safadi, the head of the Hasbani federation of municipalities.
“We don’t need anyone putting us into more trouble,” he added.
As of Friday afternoon, the outlook along the tense border was uncertain. An Israeli army spokesperson claimed that Tel Aviv had no interest in escalating the situation, but said his country would not allow the border to turn into a line of confrontation.