Two rockets were fired from southern Lebanon into Israel on Friday, prompting Israel to respond with artillery fire, Lebanese security and military officials said.
The exchange, in which no casualties were reported by either side, was the latest in persisting tensions between the two countries. It was the fourth time rockets have been fired from Lebanon into Israel, each time bringing Israeli retaliation.
It was not immediately known who fired the rockets Friday. But radical Palestinian factions in Lebanon have been blamed in the previous barrages this year.
The border has been tense since Israel and the Lebanese Shiite guerrilla group Hezbollah fought a brutal 34-day war in 2006. More than 1,200 people in Lebanon and 160 in Israel died in the conflict. Hezbollah has a large rocket arsenal but is not believed to have used them against Israel since the 2006 fighting. It has denied involvement in previous rocket attacks on Israel.
Michael Williams, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, told reporters in Beirut that the incident “is a very, very serious development and I would like to call on all sides to exercise absolute caution and restraint.”
Friday’s exchange began when two rockets were fired into Israel from the area of the Lebanese town of Qlaileh, near the port city of Tyre, a Lebanese military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the press.
One of the rockets hit near the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. No injuries were reported. Israel’s Channel 10 TV showed a telephone pole near a kibbutz not far from the border that was toppled by a rocket.
The Israeli military said it fired artillery at the source of rocket fire. The military “views this incident very severely and we hold the government of Lebanon responsible,” a statement said.
At least two Israeli shells hit near Qlaileh, Lebanese security officials said, also speaking on condition of anonymity. Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency reported that nine Israeli artillery shells fell near the town, but there were no reports of casualties or damage.
The U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which monitors the border, said it, in cooperation with Lebanese Armed Forces, deployed additional troops in the Qlaileh area to prevent escalation. The force, known as UNIFIL, said in a statement that it had contacted both sides, urging them to exercise “maximum restraint.”
Israel and Hezbollah have been increasingly exchanging warnings in recent weeks that they will retaliate against each other if either side sparks hostilities. The tensions come as Lebanese politicians are wrangling over the formation of a new government, which would likely include members of the Hezbollah-led opposition.
Israel has said that if Hezbollah is part of the Cabinet, it would hold the Lebanese government directly responsible for any attack by the guerrillas.
Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV reported on the exchange, but did not make any claim of responsibility.
The last exchange, blamed on Palestinian militants, across the border came in February. Palestinian militants also fired rockets across the border twice in January, during Israel’s offensive on Gaza against the militant Palestinian Hamas.