Mon, Dec 30, 2013 - Page 1 News List

Israel responds to Lebanon strikes as tensions skyrocket

Agencies, BEIRUT and JERUSALEM

Rockets launched from southern Lebanon struck northern Israel yesterday, prompting Jerusalem to respond with artillery shells across a border that has been largely quiet since a war in 2006.

The cross-border fire, which caused no injuries, coincided with heightened political tension in Beirut following the assassination on Friday of former Lebanese minister Mohammed Chatah.

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets.

Israeli authorities said five rockets were launched from Lebanon, but only one or two struck inside Israel, near the border town of Kiryat Shmona.

A UN peacekeeping force in Lebanon urged restraint as it said it was working with the Lebanese Army to obtain further details.

Southern Lebanon is a stronghold of Hezbollah, a Shiite group back by Iran that battled Israel seven years ago and is engaged in Syria’s civil war in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. However, Palestinian factions also operate in the area.

In public remarks at Israel’s weekly Cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused Hezbollah of “organizing fire on civilians, as it tried to do today [yesterday]” — just stopping short of alleging that the group carried out the strike.

The rocket strike, to which Israel said it responded with a barrage of shelling, came two days after a bomb blast in Beirut killed Chatah along with six others.

Chatah was a leading adviser to former Lebanese prime minister Saad al-Hariri and an outspoken critic of al-Assad and Hezbollah.

Al-Hariri and Lebanon’s oppoition March 14 Alliance have implied that the group and Damascus were behind the assassination.

The group has condemned Chatah’s killing as a “horrible crime” and Syria has denied the “wrong and arbitrary accusations.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing that made Chatah the ninth high-profile Syrian regime critic slain in Lebanon since al-Hariri’s father, Rafiq al-Hariri, was killed in a huge suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005.

Supporters of the al-Hariris blame Rafiq al-Hariri’s death on Damascus and Hezbollah.

Angry mourners yesterday chanted against Hezbollah in Beirut as the body of Chatah and his bodyguard, Tarek Badr, were transported from to a downtown mosque for burial.

Chatah will be interred at the mausoleum of Raqiq al-Hariri.

Lebanese President Michel Sleiman declared yesterday a national day of mourning as hundreds of Lebanese paid their respects amid heavy security.

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