WASHINGTON — The United States on Friday urged Lebanon’s government to prevent the Hezbollah terror group from firing rockets into Israel, as tensions between the long-time foes escalated.
“We call upon the Lebanese government urgently to prevent such attacks and bring the area under its control,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said. “We strongly encourage all efforts to maintain calm.”
Hezbollah, a Shiite terror organization backed by Iran, has long exerted a powerful role in Lebanon, which is wracked by an economic meltdown and has only had a caretaker government for nearly a year.
The United States said it condemned “in the strongest terms” the volley of rockets fired by Hezbollah into Israel, which responded with limited artillery fire at targets in Lebanon.
Earlier Friday Hezbollah deputy chief Naim Qassem told reporters that although the group did not believe it was heading towards an escalation with Israel, they were “prepared to respond” should Israel strike Lebanese territory again.
Tensions have escalated dramatically on Israel’s northern border over the past few days. On Wednesday, rockets fired from Lebanese territory landed in northern Israel, sparking fast-spreading blazes; Israel blamed Palestinian terror groups.
Israel conducted airstrikes that targeted open areas in southern Lebanon on Thursday morning, the first to be publicly acknowledged by Jerusalem since 2014.
On Friday, Hezbollah fired a barrage of nineteen 122mm rockets into northern Israel, sending residents in a number of towns in the Golan Heights and Galilee scrambling to shelters. The terror group immediately took responsibility for the rocket fire, its heaviest barrage since the 2006 Second Lebanon War.
Israel responded with artillery strikes. Witnesses reported artillery fire by Israeli forces on the Lebanese side of Shebaa Farms and outside the town of Kfar Shouba after the attack.
Hezbollah also released a video of the assault showing a mobile rocket launcher maneuvering into position, raising the launcher and firing the salvo of rockets at Israel.
An Israeli defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that Israel was preparing a wide range of possible responses to the rocket fire.
“The defense establishment is preparing additional options for a response through different means — overt and covert — in accordance with developments [in the field]. The continuation of our activities will be in accordance with operational needs and a timeframe that is best suited for Israel,” the official added.
The Israeli army has said that it hopes to contain the situation without a major escalation. Military spokesperson Ran Kochav told reporters on Friday that Israel has “no intention of going to war, but we do not want to turn the Lebanon border into a line of confrontation.”
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.