Netanyahu says Lebanese rocket attack constitutes 'double war crime'

UNIFIL vows to locate launching site of 2 Katyusha rockets that landed near Kiryat Shmona Sunday morning; IDF responds to projectiles with artillery fire into south Lebanon.

December 29, 2013 16:09
4 minute read.
IDF soldiers patrol near the Israel-Lebanon border.

IDF soldiers on Lebanon border 3 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Hashisho )


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The rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel early Sunday morning was a double war crime because it endangered innocent civilians on both sides of the border, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the cabinet Sunday morning.

Netanyahu, speaking shortly after a terrorist organization in Lebanon fired five Katyusha rockets at Israel around 7:30 a.m., said the IDF had retaliated strongly to the attack. Two of the rockets crossed the border and landed near Kiryat Shmona, though army sources said it was not immediately clear who fired them.

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Kiryat Shmona residents reported seeing smoke rising from a fire sparked by one of the projectiles which landed on a hill overlooking the city.

The IDF immediately responded with massive artillery fire.

A Reuters witness in the Lebanon frontier area said 33 Israeli shells hit near two southern border towns. No injuries were reported on either side of the border.

“We woke up to the sounds of rockets this morning,” Kiryat Shmona Mayor Nissim Malka told Channel 2 News.

“At the moment, residents are going to work as normal. We will notify them of changes if necessary.”

The United Nations, which monitors the border, has urged both sides to remain calm. But Israeli leaders said they had a responsibility to respond when attacked.

“Today, the IDF responded quickly and forcefully to the rocket fire from Lebanon,” Netanyahu said as he explained that he held Hezbollah and both the Lebanese and Iranian governments responsible for the attack. “We will not allow a drizzle and we will respond strongly and, if need be, will carry out preventive action.

“What is happening in Lebanon is that Hezbollah is stationing thousands of missiles and rockets in apartments, in the heart of the civilian population, and is thus perpetrating two war crimes simultaneously,” the prime minister continued. “It is organizing the firing at civilians, just as it did today, and it is hiding behind civilians as human shields.”

The Lebanese government and army has not lifted “a finger to prevent this arming and these crimes. We hold the Lebanese government responsible for this development,” Netanyahu said.

He noted that Iran was a player behind the scenes in that it had armed Hezbollah, just as it assisted the Syrian government in killing its own citizens. Even as Iran continues to negotiate with the West, the prime minister said, it continues to arm terrorist organizations and to develop its nuclear weapons program.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said: “We will not tolerate fire from Lebanese territory. Israel will not allow anyone to disrupt the daily routine of its citizens.”

“We see the Lebanese government and the Lebanese military as responsible for the shooting this morning and for whatever happens in their territory, and we will not permit further incidents like the one that happened this morning,” he said. “The IDF responded with massive shelling of the area from where the rockets were launched, and if need be it will act with greater force [in the future]. I wouldn’t recommend that anyone try our patience and determination to protect the security of the citizens of Israel.”

The Lebanese border has been largely quiet since Israel and Hezbollah fought a 34-day war in 2006. But tension spiked this month when a Lebanese soldier killed an Israeli soldier across the border fence, after which a UN peacekeeping force met both sides to restore calm.

Officials suggested at the time that the shooting had been the isolated action of an individual.

Last August, four rockets fired from southern Lebanon targeted northern Israel, setting off air-raid sirens in Acre, Nahariya and additional areas in the Western Galilee, and sending frightened local residents fleeing for cover. Two of the Katyushas crossed the border and landed in Israel, causing no casualties but some damage.

Sunday’s cross-border fire coincided with heightened political tension in Beirut after a bomb blast in that city killed Mohamad Chatah, a former minister and leading adviser to Sunni former prime minister Saad al-Hariri. Chatah’s funeral was held in Beirut Sunday amid heavy security on Sunday.

After observing the attack from Lebanon and Israel’s response, Maj.-Gen. Paolo Serra, the head of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, immediately contacted the Lebanese Armed Fo rces and the IDF.

“This is a very serious incident in violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and is clearly directed at undermining stability in the area,” said Serra. “UNIFIL’s first imperative is to ensure that there is no further escalation of the situation, and I have been assured by the parties of their full cooperation with UNIFIL in this effort and of their continued commitment to the cessation of hostilities.

“Our troops on the ground are working with the Lebanese Armed Forces to reinforce security and locate the rocket launching site,” he continued.

“UNIFIL has intensified its patrols across our area of operations to prevent any further incidents. It is of paramount importance to identify and apprehend the perpetrators of this attack and we will spare no efforts to this end working in cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.”

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