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JERUSALEM/GAZA: Israel’s military attacked sites in Lebanon and Gaza early on Friday, in response for rockets it blamed on the Hamas, as tensions following police raids this week on the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem threatened to spiral out of control.

Loud blasts rocked different areas of Gaza, as Israel said its jets attacked targets including tunnels and weapons manufacturing sites of Hamas, as well as a heavy machine gun used for anti-aircraft fire.

As daybreak neared, the military said it had also attacked Hamas targets in southern Lebanon, where residents around the area of the Rashidiyeh refugee camp near the southern city of Tyre reported three loud blasts.

“We strongly condemn the blatant Zionist aggression against Lebanon in the vicinity of Tyre at dawn today,” Hamas said. Two Lebanese security sources said the strike hit a small structure on farmland near the area from which the rockets had been launched earlier.

The strike appeared to have left a large crater in farmland in the south, according to Reuters witnesses. A member of Lebanon’s Civil Defense at the scene on Friday morning said there were no casualties.

Israeli forces kill two Palestinians in West Bank gunfight, medics says

The strikes came in response to rocket attacks from Lebanon towards northern Israeli areas, which Israeli officials blamed on Hamas. The military said 34 rockets were launched from Lebanon, of which 25 were intercepted by air defence systems. It was the biggest such attack since 2006.

“Israel’s response, tonight and later, will exact a significant price from our enemies,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following a security cabinet meeting.

 Smoke and flames rise during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, April 6, 2023.  REUTERS
Smoke and flames rise during Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, April 6, 2023. REUTERS

As the Israeli jets struck, salvoes of rockets were fired in response and sirens sounded in Israeli towns and cities in bordering areas, however, there were no reports of serious casualties.

The crossborder strikes came amid an escalating confrontation over Israeli police storming the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem during the Ramadan, which this year coincides with the Jewish Passover holiday.

“We hold the Zionist occupation fully responsible for the grave escalation and the flagrant aggression against the Gaza Strip and for the consequences that will bring onto the region,” Hamas said in a statement.

PM condemns Israeli attack on Palestinian worshippers

Earlier on Thursday, before the rockets were fired, senior Hezbollah official Hashem Safieddine said any infringement on Al-Aqsa “will inflame the entire region”.

UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, said it had been in contact with the parties and said both sides had said they did not seek war but it said the situation risked escalation. “We urge all parties to cease all actions across the Blue Line now,” it said, referring to the frontier demarcation between the two countries.

US condemns rocket attacks

Palestinian factions in Lebanon, which have a presence in the refugee camps, have fired sporadically on Israel in the past.

But the border area has been largely quiet since the 2006 war with Hezbollah.

The US State Department condemned the launch of rockets from Lebanon and earlier strikes from Gaza and said Israel had the right to defend itself.

Man shot dead after grabbing Israeli cop’s gun

But it also expressed concern at the scenes in the Al-Aqsa mosque, where Israeli police were filmed beating worshippers during raids that officials said were to dislodge groups of young men who had barricaded themselves inside the mosque.

The Al-Aqsa compound in Jerusalem’s Old City is Islam’s third holiest site, where hundreds of thousands pray during Ramadan. Known to Jews as Temple Mount, the location of the two biblical Jewish temples, it is also Judaism’s most sacred site, although non-Muslims are not allowed to pray there.

It has long been a flashpoint for tensions.

 Men clean the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City following clashes early on April 5, 2023. Photo: AFP
Men clean the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City following clashes early on April 5, 2023. Photo: AFP

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