UN troops vow to catch Lebanese rocket launcher

UNIFIL commander says he ‘will spare no efforts’ to find those responsible for firing Katyushas at Israel’s north, urges ‘maximum restraint’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

A Lebanese soldier holds remains of a rocket that was fired toward northern Israel in the southern village of Sarada, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013.  (Photo credit: AP/Lotfallah Daher)
A Lebanese soldier holds remains of a rocket that was fired toward northern Israel in the southern village of Sarada, Lebanon, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013. (Photo credit: AP/Lotfallah Daher)

The commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon vowed on Sunday to locate and “apprehend the perpetrators” of a rocket attack on Israel earlier that day, yet urged Israelis and Lebanese to try to deescalate the situation.

Early Sunday morning, at around 7:30 a.m., at least two Katyusha rockets fired from South Lebanon landed west of the northern Galilee town of Kiryat Shmona. So far, no one has assumed responsibility for the attack.

“It is of paramount importance to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this attack and we will spare no efforts to this end working in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces,” said UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Paolo Serra. “This is a very serious incident in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area.”

Serra contacted officials from the Israel Defense Forces and the Lebanese Armed Forces immediately after the incident, which did not lead to any casualties, and called on both parties “to exercise maximum restraint,” according to a statement.

UNIFIL has about 12,000 troops on the ground on Israel’s border with Lebanon.

“Our troops on the ground are working with the Lebanese Armed Forces to reinforce security and locate the rocket launching site. UNIFIL has intensified its patrols across our area of operations to prevent any further incidents,” Serra said. “UNIFIL’s first imperative is to ensure that there is no further escalation of the situation and I have been assured by the parties of their full cooperation with UNIFIL in this effort and of their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities.”

The IDF, which says five rockets were fired at Israel, retaliated for the attack Sunday morning by “firing at the source of the launch,” according to army spokesperson Peter Lerner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IDF responded “quickly and forcefully” to the Katyushas. “This is our policy regarding Lebanon just as it is with the Gaza Strip. We will not allow a drizzle and we will respond strongly, and if need be, will carry out preventive action.”

The prime minister said Israel holds the Lebanese government responsible for any attack emanating from its territory. “What is happening in Lebanon is that Hezbollah is stationing thousands of missiles and rockets in apartments, in the heart of the civilian population, and is thus perpetrating two war crimes simultaneously,” he said at the weekly cabinet meeting.

“It is organizing the firing at civilians, just as it did today, and it is hiding behind civilians as human shields,” the prime minister said. “This is a double war crime that is being perpetrated under the aegis of the Lebanese government and army, which are not lifting a finger to prevent this arming and these crimes.”

Yoram Schweitzer, a senior fellow at the INSS and a former head of the anti-international terror department at the IDF, said the rocket fire was likely the work of an international terror group, “looking to challenge Hezbollah and entangle it” as part of the larger conflict developing in Lebanon.

Ely Karmon, a senior researcher at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terror at the IDC Herzliya and a former adviser to the Defense Ministry, noted that the Katyusha fire came from the el-Khiam area, a region known to be under Hezbollah control, but said that the most likely scenario was that “a jihadi organization with Palestinian operatives from the nearby camps carried out the rocket attack.”

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