US says Israel has ‘right to defend itself’ after Lebanon rockets; UN urges restraint

Washington blocks UN Security Council statement on latest violence, Israeli official says; Foreign Ministry tells embassies around world to seek condemnation of Lebanese assault

File: US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel in a briefing, 2023. (Video screenshot)
File: US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel in a briefing, 2023. (Video screenshot)

The United States said Thursday evening that Israel had the right to defend itself after barrages of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza.

“We condemn the launch of rockets from Lebanon and Gaza,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. We recognize Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression.”

He spoke as Israel was widely expected to retaliate strongly to the assault from the north, the worst since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. The Israeli military said Hamas was behind the rocket fire from both Gaza and Lebanon, while it stressed the Lebanese state was responsible for attacks emanating from its territory. And such an assault was unlikely to have been carried out without at least tacit approval from the Hezbollah terror group, which controls much of south Lebanon.

Germany too said it “strongly” condemned the rocket attacks from Gaza and Lebanon, saying “they must cease immediately.”

“Especially now during the holidays, a further escalation must be prevented.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant were holding marathon consultations with top defense officials Thursday evening, and the high-level security cabinet was to convene at 8:30 p.m. to decide on the country’s next steps.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon called for restraint after rocket fire.

“The current situation is extremely serious. UNIFIL urges restraint and to avoid further escalation,” said the force which patrols the border area between the two countries that are technically still at war.

A picture taken on August 5, 2021, shows the vehicles of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), patrolling in Sahl al-Khiyam (Khiyam Plain) near the border with Israel. (Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP)

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the barrage of rockets from Lebanon, his spokesman said, calling on “all actors to exercise maximum restraint.”

The Foreign Ministry was instructing its missions around the world Thursday to make clear to the international community that Israel would respond to the rocket barrage from Lebanon.

Embassies were to make clear to their host countries that Jerusalem expected a clear condemnation of the attacks against the country.

The UN Security Council held an emergency session Thursday to discuss the recent violence in Jerusalem, and several members pushed for the top UN panel to issue a statement condemning Israel over police beatings of Muslim worshipers during clashes at Al-Aqsa Mosque on Tuesday night, according to a UN diplomat for a county on the panel.

Some members were also pushing for the statement to include a condemnation of rocket fire at Israel from Gaza and Lebanon, the UN diplomat said.

A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel that the Biden administration had blocked the UN Security Council from issuing a statement on the latest uptick in violence, fearing that it would be used to draw an equivalency between its actions and those of terror groups.

Dozens of rockets were fired from southern Lebanon on Thursday afternoon with 25 intercepted by the Iron Dome air defense system over northern Israel, the military said. At least three people were injured.

The Israel Defense Forces said 34 rockets had been fired toward the border with five landing inside Israel, and most of the rest were downed by Iron Dome. The impact sites of four others were not yet clear.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, and a Hezbollah source told the Al-Arabiya network that it was not behind the rocket fire, apparently blaming Palestinian groups based in the area. Lebanese security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media said the rockets had been fired from the area of a Palestinian refugee camp.

The salvo also came just hours after Hezbollah said it would support “all measures” Palestinian groups may take against Israel after clashes at the flashpoint Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

It also came a day after Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh arrived in Beirut for what Hamas sources called a “private visit.” Media reports said he was meeting with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad hailed the rockets from Lebanon as “a heroic operation against the Israeli crimes in the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

Israeli security at the scene where a rocket fired from Lebanon hit a village in northern Israel, April 6, 2023. (Ayal Margolin/Flash90)

Incoming rocket sirens first sounded in the towns of Betzet and Shlomi in the Western Galilee close to the border with Lebanon. The Israel Defense Forces said one rocket was identified and intercepted by the Iron Dome. Shortly afterward, sirens continued to sound in other towns across the area.

Footage circulating online showed trails of smoke from Iron Dome interceptor missiles.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said one man was lightly injured by shrapnel and a woman was hurt running for a bomb shelter. The Galilee Medical Center in Nahariya said it was treating two people lightly hurt by shrapnel, including one of the patients brought in by the MDA.

A 26-year-old man, a resident of  Yanuh Jat, was lightly hurt after being hit by shrapnel while driving a motorcycle near Shlomi, the hospital said. The second man, a 19-year-old from Fassuta, was hit by shrapnel while driving in the village. Both were in stable condition, the hospital added.

The rockets caused damage to several buildings and vehicles and sparked several fires.

Several towns and cities in the north said they were opening public bomb shelters and hospitals were on emergency footing.

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said the attack was deliberately launched as Israelis celebrated Passover and said Israel would “take all necessary measures to defend our country and people.” He also called on the international community to “issue a clear statement against those responsible.”

The suspected rocket attack came as tensions ran high after days of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, clashes at Al-Aqsa as well as a suspected Iranian drone launched from Syria earlier in the week.

Following those incidents, Hezbollah appeared to suggest it could also enter the fray.

A Hezbollah supporter holds a picture of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, and slain Iran’s Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad, left, during a rally marking Hezbollah Martyr’s Day, Lebanon, Friday, November 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

“Hezbollah forcefully denounces the assault carried out by the Israeli occupation forces against the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and its attacks on the faithful,” Hezbollah said in a statement.

“Hezbollah proclaims its full solidarity with the Palestinian people and the resistance groups, and pledges that it will stand with them in all measures they take to protect worshipers and the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to deter the enemy from continuing its attacks,” the group said.

Global concern has mounted after Israeli police clashed with Palestinians inside Islam’s third-holiest site Tuesday night, sparking an exchange of rockets and air strikes with terrorists in Gaza, with fears of further escalation.

The fighting raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas. Hezbollah’s warning raised the specter of an even wider conflict.

Emanuel Fabian and agencies contributed to this report.

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