Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension

Update Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension
An Israeli soldier walks past tanks positioned near the northern Israeli settlement of Shtula along the border with Lebanon. (AFP)
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Updated 20 July 2021

Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension

Israeli shells southern Lebanon, escalating military tension
  • Security issue doubles anxiety of the Lebanese, who try to celebrate Eid during crippling economic crisis
  • Religious leaders rap ruling authorities in sermon 

BEIRUT: Israel shelled Lebanon on Tuesday in response to rocket attacks, the Israeli Army said, as the UN urged all sides to show “maximum restraint.”

The UN peacekeeping force in the border region, UNIFIL, said it had boosted security in the area and “launched an investigation” with the Lebanese military.

No party claimed responsibility for the two 122mm Grad rockets fired at dawn on Tuesday from the Qlaileh plain, south of the city of Tyre, in southern Lebanon.

The Lebanese Army announced that three bases for launching the rockets were found in the vicinity of Qlaileh.

It said a ready-to-fire rocket found on one of the bases was disabled by a specialized unit.

UN peacekeepers stand next to a Hezbollah flag raised on the Lebanese side of the border fence with Israel, near the northern Israeli settlement of Shtula on July 20, 2021. Israel shelled Lebanon in response to earlier rocket attacks, the Israeli army said. (AFP)

A similar security incident occurred in May when unknown individuals fired Grad-type rockets from the same area towards Israel, against the backdrop of the bombing of the Gaza Strip.

“The warning sirens sounded in the region of Western Galilee after the two rockets were fired from Lebanon toward Israel,” Israeli Army spokesman Avichay Adraee announced on Tuesday.

Adraee said one was intercepted and the second fell in an open area.

According to the Lebanese Army Command, Israel responded “less than half an hour later with 12 155-caliber artillery shells, targeting the Wadi Hamul area in the Bint Jbeil district,” which borders the Occupied Territories. No casualties or damage were reported.

The Commander of the South Litani Sector in the Lebanese Army Brig. Gen. Maroun Al-Qubayati and other senior officers inspected the rocket firing site in the Qlaileh plain.

They were briefed about the process of dismantling the bases and the unfired rocket, which was moved elsewhere.

The Lebanese Army Command said its soldiers conducted a survey of the area and prevented anyone from approaching it.

It added that soldiers patrolled along the coast between Ras Al-Ain and the Qlaileh plain and erected checkpoints.

Candice Ardell, deputy director of the UNIFIL Media Office, said its radar “detected that rockets were fired from an area northwest of Qlaileh toward Israel, and later on, the Israeli Army artillery responded.”

Ardell added: “The UNIFIL was in direct contact with the parties to the conflict to urge them to exercise maximum restraint and to avoid further escalation.

“Together with the Lebanese Armed Forces, we have strengthened security in the area and launched an investigation.”

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz threatened that “Israel will react to any threat to its sovereignty and its citizens.”

Gantz added: “We will not allow the social, political and economic crises in Lebanon to turn into a security threat to Israel.”

Gantz held the Lebanese state responsible for the exchange of fire, arguing that it allows terrorist acts to be carried out from its territory.

Gantz said: “Israel will respond in accordance with its interests when and where it is appropriate,” calling on the international community to work to restore stability to Lebanon.

This security development doubled the anxiety of the Lebanese, especially Muslims, who tried on Tuesday to celebrate Eid Al-Adha amid an unprecedented economic crisis.

The Lebanese barely shopped for Eid Al-Adha this year, with limited access to food or clothes, let alone presents.

In their Eid sermons, clerics took aim at Lebanese officials.

Some clerics addressed President Michel Aoun by name, while others criticized him indirectly.

A prayer was held at Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut in the absence of caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Analysts believe political officials are avoiding appearing in public places for fear of having to confront the people’s resentment.

The Secretary of Dar Al-Fatwa in the Lebanese Republic, Sheikh Amin Al-Kurdi, said in his sermon: “This country is misfortunate because it is ruled by warlords, corrupt politicians and people who chose to remain silent in the face of corruption.

“Today, the dignity of the citizens has been dragged through the mud in the queues of humiliation for fuel, food and medicine. Children died and patients could not use their oxygen concentrators due to power cuts.”

Regarding the ongoing investigations into the crime of the Beirut port explosion, Sheikh Al-Kurdi stressed that “there is no immunity for the corrupt and the perpetrators, and there is no cover for any of them, no matter how high their ranks are.”

The Mufti of Sidon Sheikh Salim Sousan criticized “those who overwhelmed the country, spread corruption and brought the homeland and the citizens to this state we live in, and did not abide by the principles, charters, the Constitution, the Taif Agreement and the National Pact.”

Sheikh Sousan added: “What does this corrupt authority that destroyed Lebanon and its economy and plundered its currency want? They want to go to hell? So let them go along with those who support them, but we want to live in a homeland that is an oasis of peace, security and stability, and there must be a real, peaceful popular uprising.”

The Mufti of Hasbaya and Marjayoun Sheikh Hassan Delly directly addressed Aoun: “Since you were elected president of the country, the people have been unjustly humiliated to get some liters of gasoline and crumbs of bread.

“We have children dying at the doors of hospitals, we have no medicines and the Lebanese pound’s value hit record lows. This happened under your reign and history will be forgiving towards you.”

Sheikh Delly addressed the Sunni leaders warning that “harming our rights and powers would harm one of the basic components of this nation’s entity.

“We must unite so that we do not become easy prey for others.”

Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri had stepped down from forming a government on July 15, nine months after he was assigned, failing to reach an agreement with Aoun.

Parliamentary consultations are expected to take place to assign an alternative Sunni figure next Monday, amid Sunni resentment over how the president and his political team handled the constitutional powers of the prime minister.