The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is urging calm after the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducted strikes against southern Lebanon in response to a cross-border rocket barrage in the midst of a worsening series of escalations in the region.
“Early this morning, the IDF informed UNIFIL that they will begin an artillery response to yesterday’s rocket launches,” a spokesperson for UNIFIL told Newsweek. “Immediately after, UNIFIL personnel heard loud explosions around the city of Tyre.”
“UNIFIL’s Head of Mission and Force Commander, Major General Aroldo Lázaro, is speaking with authorities on both sides of the Blue Line,” the spokesperson added.
UNIFIL is a multinational force comprised of around 10,000 troops from 47 nations deployed to the tense Israel-Lebanon border, also known as the Blue Line, where up to 34 rockets were launched into Israel by what the IDF has assessed to be Palestinian factions in Lebanon. IDF spokesperson Richard Hecht said earlier Thursday that 25 of the rockets were intercepted, but no r⁷esponse had yet been conducted.
He did not explicitly identify the group behind the attack, but said it was most likely conducted by Palestinian factions, potentially tied to the Gaza-based Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements. He also suspected that Hezbollah had knowledge of the operation and said the IDF was investigating potential Iranian involvement, something the Iranian Mission to the U.N. told Newsweek was untrue.
A Hezbollah spokesperson confirmed to Newsweek that the group was aware of the Israeli strikes against Lebanon and accused Israel of trying to “rehabilitate” its image. Newsweek has also reached out to the Lebanese Armed Forces, which earlier discovered rocket launchers suspected of being involved in the rocket attacks against Israel.
UNIFIL then also had called for restraint, but further escalations ensued hours later.
“Our liaison and coordination mechanisms are fully engaged. Both sides have said they do not want a war,” the UNIFIL spokesperson said. “The actions over the past day are dangerous and risk a serious escalation. We urge all parties to cease all actions across the Blue Line now.”
Self-propelled artillery howitzers stationed at an Israeli army base in Zawra are pictured Thursday in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. United Nations peacekeepers call for calm after Israel conducted strikes against southern Lebanon in response to a rocket barrage.
RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
The IDF has confirmed the operation against Lebanon, with which Israel remains in a state of war.
“The IDF struck targets including terror infrastructures belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in southern Lebanon,” the IDF said in a statement shared with Newsweek. “The IDF will not allow the Hamas terrorist organization to operate from within Lebanon and holds the state of Lebanon responsible for every directed fire emanating from its territory.”
A Hamas spokesperson condemned “in the strongest terms the blatant Zionist aggression against Lebanon,” in a statement shared with Newsweek.
The strikes, according to the Hamas spokesperson, “validated the brutality of the fascist occupation leadership, its policies that threaten peace and security in the region by violating the sovereignty of brotherly Arab countries.”
“We hold the Zionist entity and its fascist leadership fully responsible for the repercussions of this dangerous escalation,” the Hamas spokesperson said.
Hours after the initial rocket strikes against Israel, Hamas shared with Newsweek a statement on a meeting between the group’s political chief, Ismail Haniyeh, and Palestinian resistance factions in the Lebanese capital of Beirut. The gathering resulted in an eight-point call for action appealing to Palestinians across the region as well as Arab and Muslim countries in response to the controversial storming of the Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli forces that began Tuesday.
The IDF said the raids were conducted to remove Palestinian worshippers armed with firecrackers and stones who had barricaded themselves in the compound considered to be the third-most sacred site in Islam during the holy month of Ramadan. The Israeli operation drew regional condemnation, however, and further spurred a growing year-long wave of violence in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Vedant Patel condemned the rocket launches from Lebanon into Israel and defended what he said was “Israel’s legitimate right to defend itself against all forms of aggression” during a press briefing earlier Thursday. At the same time, he said that “we are concerned by the scenes out of Jerusalem, and it is our viewpoint that it is absolutely vital that the sanctity of holy sites be preserved.”
The IDF has also been actively striking the Gaza Strip, from which an ongoing barrage of rockets have been fired against Israel.
In the latest operation, announced shortly after the strikes carried out in Lebanon, the IDF said “fighter jets struck additional targets belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip, including a shaft to an underground complex used for weapons manufacturing, three additional weapon manufacturing sites and a terror tunnel, belonging to the Hamas terrorist organization.”
“This strike significantly harms the capabilities and prevents further weapon acquisition capabilities of the Hamas terrorist organization in the Gaza Strip,” the IDF said. “The IDF holds the Hamas terrorist organization responsible for all terror activities emanating from the Gaza Strip and it will face the consequences of the security violations against Israel.”
With Israeli-Palestinian clashes playing out on multiple fronts, the situation has begun to near levels of instability witnessed in May 2021, when an all-out conflict erupted between the IDF and Gaza-based Palestinian factions backed by rocket fire from both Lebanon and Syria. The two-week war ended with a ceasefire brokered by Egypt, but violence has continued to flare over the past two years.
Israel’s security has further deteriorated in recent weeks as citizens rallied against a law proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s administration that would give the parliament unprecedented control over the judiciary. Separately, protests have erupted in majority-Arab cities over the turmoil surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque at a time when the IDF has informed Newsweek of a rise in independent Palestinian resistance groups emerging in the West Bank and Jerusalem.