Lebanon protested Tuesday to the UN Security Council over an Israeli raid near Beirut, the first in four years, which the Jewish state said was a warning to Lebanon and patron Syria against cross-border attacks.
As Israeli officials warned of dire consequences if Lebanon is used as a “springboard” for further attacks by pro-Syrian groups, Beirut filed a letter of complaint to the Security Council.
On Monday night, Israeli jets bombed suspected positions of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command in Naameh, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the Lebanese capital.
The raid, which the PFLP-GC said had inflicted no casualties, was in response to an attack earlier Monday that Israel said targeted one of its naval vessels patrolling in Israeli territorial waters.
The raid on Naameh was the first air strike so close to the capital since the Israeli troop pullout from southern Lebanon in May 2000 after 22 years of occupation.
As part of ongoing confrontations since then, Israel raided southern and eastern Lebanon, and also carried out a single strike near Damascus in October after a suicide attack near Haifa claimed by Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad.
The raid on Syria was the first since 1974.
Syria is the main power broker in Lebanon, and hosts the headquarters of hardline Palestinian factions which oppose the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Beirut newspapers wondered Tuesday about the timing of the “surprise tensions.”
The leading An Nahar ran a headline reading: “Mysterious missiles by day, raid on Naameh by night.”
President Emile Lahoud denounced the raid as “another violation of Lebanese sovereignty and part of the hostile Israeli practices against Lebanon,” an official statement said.
Lahoud also “asked the concerned authorities to lodge a letter of complaint with the United Nations Security Council over the new Israeli aggression.”
Officials said Foreign Minister Jean Obeid had instructed Lebanon’s ambassador to the United Nations, Sami Kronfol, to send such a letter, complaining of the “new aggression.”
Beirut also “reserved the right for Lebanon to request a council meeting if and when it sees fit,” one official said.
A spokesman for the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon said an investigation was started after three missiles were fired Monday from an area near the peacekeeping forces’ headquarters in the border town of Naqura.
A PFLP-GC official said late Monday the warplanes had fired two missiles at disused positions of the radical group.
The group later explained in a statement that “as part of a state terrorism programme practiced by the Zionist entity … enemy warplanes raided a PFLP-GC medical center in Naameh, which provides medical and social services to the people.”
“The savage and hostile raid did not inflict casualties, but left material damage,” it said.
An AFP photographer who toured the area early Tuesday said the hills over Naameh contained deserted military positions, but could not specify the exact place bombed on Monday.
The Lebanese army said the raid was preceded by Israeli reconnaissance overflights of the same region.
“Then two warplanes flew in circles between Beirut and Damur, and fired two missiles on tunnels in Naameh hills before leaving the area,” it said.
Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Zeev Boim told public radio Tuesday that “Israel will not permit Lebanon to become a springboard for launching terrorist attacks against our territory.”
“The attack we carried out near Beirut serves as a clear message to the Lebanese government that it must prevent terrorist operations emanating from its territory,” he said.
The chairman of the Israeli parliament’s foreign affairs and defense committee, Yuval Steinitz, said the Israeli attack should be interpreted as “a threat to the governments of Lebanon and Syria.”
“The fact that this raid took place near Beirut, the economic hub of Lebanon, serves as a warning that there will be a high price to pay if terrorist activity continues to be launched from its territory,” he said.